Rabbi Jen Lader, Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny, Rabbi Marla Hornsten and Rabbi Arianna Gordon
Rabbi Jen Lader, Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny, Rabbi Marla Hornsten and Rabbi Arianna Gordon

Temple Israel will celebrate 50 years of women in the Rabbinate on May 26.

On May 26, Temple Israel will celebrate its female rabbis and the women who helped pave the way for women in the rabbinate.

Along with the Holy Sparks exhibit in the Goodman Family Museum, Temple Israel will unveil portraits of Rabbi Marla Hornsten, Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny, Rabbi Jen Lader and Rabbi Arianna Gordon by paper-cut artist Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik, whose work was recently featured in the Goodman Family Museum. His art is a combination of the ancient art of Jewish paper cutting, Jewish text and comic books, combined to depict the essence of their individual rabbinates, personalities and interests.

At Temple Israel, each of the rabbis took a different path to the bimah.

Rabbi Marla Hornsten

Rabbi Hornsten never planned on becoming a rabbi.

“When I was a teenager, my dad would say things, like ‘you should become a rabbi,’ and I would literally tell him that was the most ridiculous thing I ever heard,” Hornsten said.

As an adult, while working on her master’s degree in European history, she enrolled in a program at the Brandeis Collegiate Institute.

“I loved everything about it. I studied Jewish texts for the first time. I was living an intensive Jewish life, pursuing Judaism through art and music and drama and dance, and it was incredible,” Rabbi Hornsten said. “I met amazing people, and the Jewish text piece was really significant to me. After that summer, I went back to school, and I just felt like I was looking at the world through a Jewish lens. I felt like everything had a Jewish perspective to it. And I hadn’t seen that before.”

From there, she started thinking more about the conversations she would have with her dad about potentially being a rabbi.

“I kept saying, ‘No, no, no,’ but it kept coming up and, finally, a guy I was working with said to me, ‘Marla, maybe you should just do it already,’ and that’s when I decided I would,” she said.

Hornsten came to Temple Israel in July of 2000. She was the first female rabbi at Temple Israel.

Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny

Rabbi Kaluzny joined Temple Israel clergy in 2004.

“Judaism was always a positive, fun, loving part of my life, I enjoyed learning Jewish text and Hebrew, and my own rabbis looked like they truly enjoyed what they were doing. I always knew I wanted to be in a helping profession,” she said. “I considered nursing or teaching. I love being in a medical environment and being around different kinds of people. Becoming a rabbi allows me to do all of those things: teach, preach, counsel, travel. I have the opportunity to experience everything I love in a Jewish context.”

When Kaluzny was 19, her aunt passed away while in hospice in Chicago. The care her aunt received left an impact on her. Even before ordination, she sought training in chaplaincy and hospice work, and that led to her join the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network in the summer of 2001.

“I was taken by the nurses, the rabbi that came and said a prayer for her, and how much respect each and every person showed my aunt, even when she wasn’t conscious. They nurses even took care of us, knowing how much we loved her and were devastated by her death,” Kaluzny said. “I made a promise to myself then that I if I succeeded in becoming a rabbi, I would make chaplaincy and hospice work a cornerstone of my rabbinate.”

Rabbi Jen Lader

Rabbi Lader joined Temple Israel in 2012. She also never planned on being a rabbi.

“I was going to be a doctor,”  Lader said. “Since I was little, I was focused on science. My dad’s a scientist, and I went to a science academy for middle school and a specialized magnet school for high school … I’ve been obsessed with the natural world and magic and our bodies and nature, and I was very on track for that.”

Lader grew up in a smaller Jewish community in Austin, Texas. As a teenager, she was introduced to BBYO.

“Youth group was totally mind-blowing for me. It was incredible to break out of my very small community and see what the Jewish world had to offer, and I just had no idea,” Lader said.

Even with that, Lader said she was still on the science track through college, majoring in pre-med at the University of Maryland. But she also started taking Jewish studies as part of her college curriculum. She said she had all of her “real classes” in science, but all her electives were in Jewish studies.

At this time, a congregation nearby had an opening for a youth director and she applied.

“I really connected with working with Jewish teens and between my Jewish studies classes, those were the parts I was really looking forward to in my life,” she said. “Some brilliant adviser said to me, you don’t have to do that [stick with science]. You can do something you enjoy, and that was a really big deal.

“That’s when I wanted to become a rabbi,” she added. “And the thing I love about both science and the rabbinate is that I get to walk through the world with a sense of awe … it’s the best decision I ever made.”

Rabbi Arianna Gordon

You could say Rabbi Gordon’s path to the rabbinate officially started earlier in life.

“I had the best time at my bat mitzvah. I had a younger cousin who kept asking if I was nervous on the day of, and I would tell him how much fun I was having,” Gordon said. “That was the first time it occurred to me that this could be interesting.”

Gordon said she began to talk about being a rabbi at 13. Over the next decade, she learned more about what that could mean. She chose Brandeis University for its Judaic studies and taught religious school throughout college as well.

One summer during college, she purposely worked a separate nine-to-five job, just to make sure she had chosen the right path as a teenager and it was clear. She applied to rabbinical school.

Gordon focused on education in her rabbinate, and she joined Temple Israel in 2011 as the temple’s director of education.

Role Models for the Community

All four of Temple Israel’s female rabbis have become role models in the community in several facets of Jewish life. They have also become role models for young women and girls who would like to follow them on a similar path.

“It’s funny. I never considered the fact that I hadn’t met a female rabbi when I decided I want to be a rabbi,” Kaluzny said. “I’m all for anyway I can help girls not think twice about it. I never thought about breaking a glass ceiling or even continuing breaking a glass ceiling, I just want it to be another one of the choices that girls have because they should always have those choices.”

Hornsten added, “How magnificent is it that you have all these female rabbi role models? I had to seek them out when I was thinking of going to rabbinical school, which I did. And these young girls don’t have to do that, they see us.

“There was one little girl who used to dress up and play ‘Rabbi Marla.’ I thought it was so sweet and a sea change from prior generations. Our young girls don’t even give it a second thought whether they can be rabbis … I was raised that I could be anything I wanted, but I didn’t have those role models and they have them in the four of us and see how people with different skills can be rabbis.”

Temple Israel’s celebration of its female rabbis takes place 5:45-9 p.m. Friday, May 26. Register at www.temple-israel.org/event/holysparks.

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