Rabbi Sally Priesand received the Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ Elizabeth Blackwell Award.
Photo by Jill Huber
April 28, 2009
Rabbi Sally Priesand, the country’s first female rabbi and rabbi emerita of Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, has received the Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ Elizabeth Blackwell Award.
Named for the first woman to earn a medical degree, in 1849, the award is given to women whose lives exemplify outstanding service. Previous recipients include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and anthropologist Margaret Mead.
Priesand, who retired in June 2006 after 25 years as religious leader at MRT, received the award on April 23 in a ceremony at the school’s Geneva, NY, campus.
“Rabbi Priesand is an important figure of our time,” said college president Mark Gearan. “By becoming the first woman rabbi in the U.S., she achieved an important milestone for women and Jews around the world. She is truly living a life of consequence.”
Priesand, 62, was ordained in June 1972 at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. Since then, almost 1,000 women have joined the Reform and Conservative rabbinates.
The Ohio native, who now lives in Ocean Township, was 16 when she decided to become a rabbi. At HUC-JIR, she dealt with opposition from students and teachers, but was encouraged by her parents and Dr. Nelson Glueck, then president of HUC-JIR.
“They helped me achieve my rabbinic dream,” Priesand told NJ Jewish News. “I was the only woman in my HUC class and there were no women on the faculty. I felt they held me to a higher standard, so I always tried to do better than everyone else. No one took me seriously at first; they thought I came to marry a rabbi rather than be one.”
Before she came to MRT, Priesand spent seven years as assistant rabbi and associate rabbi at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City. From 1979 to 1981, she was affiliated with Temple Beth El in Elizabeth on a part-time basis and also served as chaplain at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan.
Priesand’s commitment to Judaism and social justice brought her to the attention of the Blackwell Award committee, Gearan said. She has served on the boards of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Union for Reform Judaism, and HUC-JIR and is a member of Jewish Women International, Hadassah, the National Council of Jewish Women, the National Organization for Women, and the National Breast Cancer Coalition (she is a cancer survivor).
Priesand also is an honorary vice president of the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, president of Interfaith Neighbors in Asbury Park, and chairs the clergy advisory committee of Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey. She also serves on the boards of the Holocaust, Genocide, & Human Rights Education Center in Lincroft and the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County.
In 1997, the Sally Priesand Visiting Professorship in Jewish Women’s Studies was established at HUC and, upon her retirement, MRT set up the Sally Priesand Endowment Fund for the Future. At the temple, she created a social action committee, which won an award in 2003 from the URJ for promoting gun safety.
“I have followed this course to be a teacher of Judaism and Jewish principles,” Priesand said. “That has always been my motivation.”