‘Pioneers on the Prairie’ is topic for 2023 Lefkowitz Lecture
Back in 1872, Reform Judaism as we know it did not exist. Nearly 50 years later, the Reformed Society of Israelites for Promoting True Principles of Judaism would emerge in Charleston, South Carolina. But the organization that would become Temple Emanu-El had more pressing concerns: building a burial space and finding a worship space for the High Holy Days.
It is details like these that fascinate Rabbi Dr. Carole Balin, professor emerita of Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion and the scholar-in-residence for the 2023 Lefkowitz Lecture on Jan. 27-28.
“It’s remarkable that Dallas became a fertile ground for the rise of Reform Judaism even before Cincinnati, the motherland of Reform Judaism,” says Balin. “Dallas was in the vanguard and continues to be in the vanguard of Reform Judaism.”
Balin, whose research specializes in gender issues, modern Jewish history and American Jewish studies, is preparing three Shabbat teachings for the weekend, one of a series of learning opportunities for the TE150 celebration year.
“I am being called on to put an emphasis on women’s roles in your history,” she says. “From speaking to people like Ellen Lewis, a veteran woman rabbi who made her first stop in Dallas, I will be helping to bring the history alive by talking to people who have been part of it.”
The Shabbat evening sermon will set up a framework for understanding how Temple Emanu-El fits into the larger history of Reform Judaism. On Shabbat morning, she’ll be sharing her research about the bat mitzvah ceremony and the impact 12- and 13-year-old girls have had on changing Jewish communities. And at Havdalah on Saturday evening, she’ll focus on lay women’s roles at Temple and in the broader community.
Temple Emanu-El has been on Balin’s radar since 2016, when she was a special guest at a service honoring Rabbi Debra Robbins on her 25th anniversary at Temple. “That was the opening gambit for me in learning about the congregation; I did take a look at some of the related history for Debbie’s tenure,” she says. “That was the tip of the iceberg; now I’ll be fleshing out the rest of the history.”
Balin worked at HUC-JIR for 25 years, and now teaches across the country and the world. She chairs the board of the Jewish Women’s Archive, an online resource. Her current research focus is on bat mitzvah. “It’s really a story about coming of age, how bat mitzvah became a fixture in the Jewish lifecycle. I curated an exhibit about bat mitzvah for the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History of hundreds of voices of Jewish women and girls, and I’m finally putting it on paper.”
She says she values the opportunity “to create a chapter in the history as it unfolds over next year. I’m glad I can provide a framework for the year as the congregation touches its past.”
This article, written by Connie Dufner, was reprinted with permission from Temple Emanu-El.