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Rabbi Julie Take One

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“What should we call you?” I tell them my name is Julie, but they can call me whatever they want.

Do they want to call me Rabbi Pelc? I don’t feel like Rabbi Pelc. It sounds like someone old, someone wise, someone male. Many of my colleagues would choose to be Rabbi Julie, a nice compromise. But this begs the question — if I were a man, even a male student, would I still flinch when they called me Rabbi? Or would I shyly smile, knowing the title will be mine soon enough?

This article appeared in our August 2003 issue. I tell myself that I am being reverent to the training of my profession, since I will not rightfully be called rabbi for three more years, when I finish my graduate studies. But behind the reverence and humility lurks a deep-seated fear of owning the power of the rabbinate — owning the power of my own authority. On the airplane, high above Las Vegas, headed toward Lubbock, Texas, I try on my profession for size for the first time. I am practicing my Torah reading, matching the ancient words with their musical cantillation — reading, then singing under my breath until I can chant the Hebrew without looking at the page. This week, the Torah portion includes the story of Noah. I glance over my sermon, describing God’s plan to eradicate humanity because of its corruption and immorality. Seated in my row, three attractive young men loudly discuss their weekend plans. The one closest to me is especially good-looking, and I pause every few verses to listen to the animated debate. They are arguing about whether the guy in the window seat would b …

Julie Pelc received a master’s degree at Harvard Graduate School of Education and another in rabbinic studies at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. She was on leave in 2003 from Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, recovering from a brain hemorrhage. Her book, Joining the Sisterhood; Young Jewish Women Write Their Lives, was published by SUNY Press in September 2003.


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