African-American woman ordained as rabbi in Cincinnati

WASHINGTON – After supporting the election of the first black U.S. president, the American Jewish community is continuing to fulfill its promise of working toward change with the ordination of the first black woman rabbi. Alysa Stanton, 45, who calls herself “the new face of Judaism,” was ordained Saturday, along with 14 other new Reform rabbis in Cincinnati.

Stanton is divorced and has an adopted 14-year-old daughter. She grew up in a Christian home in Cleveland, and talks about a spiritual quest that brought her to Eastern religions and various Christian denominations. However, after moving to a Jewish suburb of Cleveland with her family she began to be drawn to Judaism, and converted over 20 years ago while in college. She later studied at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Many of her family and friends thought Stanton had “sold herself out,” and were displeased with her conversion. Some even ostracized her, “but I had to learn who I was, what my values were and move forward,” she says.

Trained as a psychologist, Stanton beat out a number of other candidates and was appointed rabbi of Congregation Bayt Shalom in Greenville, N.C.; she will assume the post in August.

She is aware of the heavy responsibility of being a trailblazer and says she hopes to build bridges between cultures and communities. However, she says she also wants people to relate to her as a rabbi who also happens to be an African American – and not as an African American rabbi.

Demographic estimates show that today, some 20 percent of U.S. Jews are non-white. The topic of black Jews in America made the headlines when the media discovered that Michelle Obama, the wife of President Barack Obama, has a cousin, Capers Funnye, who is a rabbi in Chicago.
(Tags: Black, Jewish, Woman, Rabbi)

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