Looking for a Few Good Jewish Men
Leadership in Much of American Reform Movement Falling Mostly to Women
By Rachel Zoll
Saturday, May 22, 2004; Page B09
The branch of American Judaism that pioneered elevating women to leadership positions is now wrestling with an uncomfortable issue: Where have the men gone?
Reform Jewish leaders in many communities say that females outnumber males in areas ranging from summer camp to synagogue leadership, prompting concern that men feel abandoned by the religious movement and are turning away from it.
The issue is being raised by both men and women who insist they are feminists with no desire to roll back the gains of the last few decades.
"Men just don't know where they fit in," said Doug Barden, executive director of the Reform movement's North American Federation of Temple Brotherhoods. "They're kind of betwixt and between."
While an equal number of men and women are studying to become rabbis at the four campuses of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform seminary, women outnumber men 2 to 1 in its cantorial school, administrators say.
The same 2-to-1 ratio can be found among the staff members and campers of the top Reform camp program -- the Kutz National Reform Jewish Leadership Center in Warwick, N.Y. -- according to the center's director, Rabbi Eve Rudin.
Youth program directors and participants also are overwhelmingly female in many regions, as are Jewish educators, said Rudin, who also directs the Reform North American Federation of Temple Youth.
And several rabbis said it is not unusual to find synagogues where the clergy and lay leadership of the congregation are nearly all women.
"There's been what some people call a feminization of our movement," Rudin said. "We need to have a Reform movement for everybody."
Some Reform feminists see signs of a backlash.
The liberal branch of U.S. Judaism -- which is now the largest, with about 920 synagogues -- was the first to ordain women as rabbis in 1972 and has carved out greater opportunities for them ever since.
Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson, director of the Women's Rabbinic Network, said Judaism has a long history of relegating women to supporting roles, and it's destructive to now blame them for gender imbalance.
"Women have become very involved," she said. "To see that as a threat to men is an extremely, extremely dangerous way of looking at it."
Those raising the issue say they're not assigning blame -- just seeking ways to make boys and men feel less alienated.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company