On Monday, Rabbi Denise Eger, 55, became the third woman and first openly lesbian (LGBT) president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the rabbinical arm of the Reform Judaism movement, which is holding is 126th convention at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel in Center City.
However, Eger was not always be open about her sexuality. When first ordained in 1988, the lesbian Rabbi notes that she was not “one to wave the rainbow flag.” She did however come out in 1990 in an LA Times article.
“On a basic level, she is the first openly gay president, and that’s a big deal historically,” said Rabbi Hara E. Person, publisher and director of the CCAR Press. “But Denise brings so much more, including her commitment to Reform Judaism and our values, human rights, basic human dignity, and social activism.”
Her first job was “LGBT outreach” as full-time rabbi at Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles, the first gay and lesbian synagogue recognized by Reform Judaism.
In addition, the central conference will release a new, more inclusive Mishkan HaNefesh, the siddur, or prayer book, for the High Holidays – when, Eger said, most American Jews attend services.
“It is the first revision in 30 years, Eger said in an interview, “and takes us further into contemporary language, practice, and modern thought.”
Eger said there were many sources in Scripture that support such inclusiveness, none more important than that “God created all human beings in his image – and not just one kind of person.”
For Reform Jews, “loving your neighbor as yourself remains an overriding moral value and reminds us that we engage with another from a place of love and kindness, which are antidotes to the hate and exclusiveness of this world,” Eger said.
Rabbi Eger’s appointment is additional proof that the Jewish religion has the ability to evolve and assert progressive values, while maintaining much of the faith, tradition and constructs.
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