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February 09, 1990 - Image 94

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-02-09

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

PROFILE

7

Amy Bigman reads
Torah with two young
congregants

rksdale Press Regis

K

JENNIFER GUBKIN

Special to The Jewish News

W

hen people ask
Carol Bigman why
her daughter Amy,
24, wants to be a woman rab-
bi, she replies, "because that's
the only rabbi she can be."
Bigman, a native of Detroit
and a third-year rabbinical
student at Hebrew Union Col-
lege — Jewish Institute of
Religion, is also a rabbi for a
bi-weekly congregation in
Mississippi.
Twice a month, Bigman
wakes up at 7 a.m. Friday to
catch a plane from Cincinnati
to Memphis. From there it is
a Ph hour drive to Clarksdale,
Miss., where Bigman leads
Beth Israel Temple, a Reform
congregation with 70
members. After checking into
her hotel, Bigman drives her
rented car to the synagogue to
prepare for the Friday evening
service.
Most of the congregants are
old enough to be her parents.
They call her Amy and often
worry about her as if she were
their own daughter. "It's a dif-
ficult situation to deal with
because you know they're just
concerned and being nice,"
Bigman said. "On the other
hand, I am an adult and can
take care of myself."
Bigman and the congrega-
tion have compromised to in-
sure her safety. She will not
arrive before the 8 p.m. Hav-
dala service while one person
from the community is
designated to meet her so that
she is not alone at the
synagogue after dark. She
said it's one of the few times
being a young woman has af-
fected her job.

94

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 1990

veling Preacher

What's a nice girl from West Bloom-
field doing in a small town in
Mississippi twice a month?

Bigman vividly remembers
her first weekend in Clarks-
dale last fall. She was viewed
as an oddity, but says the con-
gregation welcomed her with
Southern hospitality. One
male congregant exclaimed,
"We finally got a rabbi we can
kiss, too."
Louis Rnoden, treasurer of
Beth Israel, said although a
few members would prefer a
male on the pulpit, no one has
criticized Bigman's perfor-
mance. "I've received nothing
but good reports about Amy,"
he said.
When Bigman returned to
West Bloomfield in December
for vacation, she attended ser-
vices at Temple Kol Ami to
visit her friend Rabbi Norman
Roman. He introduced Amy
as "the Chief Rabbi of
Clarksdale, Miss:' He was on-
ly half-joking. Bigman has
almost all the responsibilities
of an ordained rabbi.
Rabbi Gary Zola .of Hebrew
Union College says student
rabbis fulfill 90 percent of a
full-time congregational rab-
bi's duties. Rabbinical
students are required to have

a bi-weekly congregation for
one year of their five-year pro-
gram. Rabbi Zola says the on-
ly limitations are that
students may not officiate
alone at a wedding or
conversion.

In Mississippi, Bigman
leads the service, delivers her
sermon and teaches three
Sunday school students.
Bigman finds providing music
for the service one of her most
challenging duties. "I enjoy
singing, but I cannot lead a
congregation in song worth a
darn," Bigman said. "I don't
know how to project my voice,
and I don't read music so I'm
limited to old standards.
Whatever I grew up with,
that's what they get."
Bigman was raised at Thrn-
ple Beth-El with a strong
sense of Jewish identity. She
says her family was always
friends with the temple's rab-
bis, who had a steady in-
fluence on her life. Her
parents, Carol and Ronald, are
founding members of Shir
Shalom. Bigman describes
herself as "one of those weird

kids who enjoyed Sunday
school and services:'
She was active in National
Federation of Thmple Youth at
Beth El while attending An-
dover High School. She helped
found Chavarah, a Reform
group, at the University of
Michigan. At Andover,
Bigman considered the rab-
binate as a career but opted
"to do something more prac-
tical," she said.
Bigman decided in her
sophomore year at Michigan
to become a rabbi. "Through
the process of applying to
business school, I realized
business wasn't really what I
wanted to do. Being a rabbi
was the only other thing I
could possibly picture myself
doing. From then on, I had no
other thoughts about being
anything other than a rabbi."
Being a rabbi allows her to
combine many interests,
especially preserving her
Jewish heritage and working
with people. "The way I was
raised, with the influence
from my parents and rabbis in
my life, has made it important
for me to pass my heritage on

and have an affect on others,"
Bigman said.
When Bigman announced
her career choice, few people
were surprised. "I'm not sur-
prised she chose a career
within the Jewish communi-
ty," said Rabbi Roman, a
former Beth El assistant rab-
bi. "I have a sense of ap-
preciative surprise in her deci-
sion to become a rabbi. Amy
has patience, sensitivity and
empathy. I see her as a Hillel
or chaplain rabbi. I'm not sure
she has the self-confidence
and drive, at least not yet, to
be a congregational rabbi?'

Bigman was accepted to
HUC in January of her senior
year at Michigan, three weeks
before her bat mitzvah.
Bigman emphasizes that she
did not have a bat mitzvah
because she planned to be a
rabbi. She did not have a bat
mitzvah at the traditional age
of 12 1/2-13 because she quit
Hebrew school after fourth
grade. She says she regretted
it almost immediately but did
not resume Hebrew classes un-
til her junior year of college.
Bigman's bat mitzvah was
particularly meaningful
because she planned her own
service. Her mother and
father lit the Shabbat candles
together; her younger brother
and sister handed the Torah to
her.
Now Bigman is determined
to "pass down the Torah"
throughout the Jewish com-
munity. She spends most of
her time either studying or
preparing for Clarksdale
because rabbinical school
leaves her little time for a
social life. She does not picture
herself getting married before
her scheduled ordination in

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