Today in Black Jewish History Month, Alysa Stanton
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Alysa Stanton is an African-American Jew. On June 6, 2009, she was ordained the first African-American female rabbi.
Stanton was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and moved to Denver, Colorado, at the age of 11. Although raised a Pentecostal Christian, when she was 24, Stanton converted to Judaism after considering several Eastern religions. She has said she was “born Jewish—just not to a Jewish womb”.
In her first career, Stanton was a psychotherapist. She specialized in grief counseling, and was asked to speak to people in Columbine after the 1999 high school massacre. Before preparing for the rabbinate, she sought to become a cantor, but heard that Jewish leadership positions were not available to women. When she finally saw a female cantor, she decided to pursue the studies necessary to become a rabbi.
Stanton graduated from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, a Reform Jewish seminary. She says she is not concerned with being the first Black woman to become a rabbi, “I try not to focus on being the first. I focus on being the best—the best human being, the best rabbi I can be.” “If I were the 50,000th, I’d still be doing what I do…. Me being first was just the luck of the draw.”
Since her ordination, Stanton has been the rabbi of Congregation Bayt Shalom, a small majority-white synagogue in Greenville, North Carolina. The congregation’s president said that the fact that Stanton is African-American and a woman had nothing to do with the decision to hire her: “I’m very proud of my community. [Stanton’s being a woman or being Black] never came up in conversation. Obviously, we all know that’s unusual but when she got on the pulpit during her visit, it was totally comfortable.”
This is Black Jewish History Month at Manishtana’s Musings.