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December 29, 2011 - Image 47

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-12-29

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arts & entertainment

The 'Theological Ping'

In The Choosing, Rabbi Andrea Myers documents a coming out,
a conversion, a life in Israel and much more.

Sandee Brawarsky
Special to the Jewish News

he is the daughter of a Sicilian
Catholic mother and German
Lutheran father; she came out
as a lesbian while a student at Brandeis
University, converted to Judaism in Israel
and studied for the rabbinate in New York.
Now 40 and married to a rabbi, she is rabbi
and rebbetzin, a mother, teacher and writer.
"Any major life change should only
make you more of who you are," Andrea
Myers says in an interview, noting these
words have guided her own journey, and
she uses them to help others.
Her recent memoir, The Choosing: A
Rabbi's Journey from Silent Nights to High
Holy Days (Rutgers University Press), is
joyful and infused with a love of Judaism.
Hers is a hard-won joy, she says, but it is
still joy. She uses humor to underline what
she cares most about.
"I am a rabbi, looking simply to do
what rabbis have always done," she writes,
"to take particular, individual stories and
relate them to universal themes:"
In her rabbinate, she tries to draw out the
stories of others' paths — that's where she
hears "the theological ping in this world."
Her narrative style appears casual but is
well crafted, starting with a text or anec-
dote, and then spinning stories that lead
to other stories, and eventually circling
back to where she started. She's drawn to
the cycle of the year and the ongoing pos-
sibilities of renewal: In the words of her
Italian grandmother, "God closes a door
and throws you out the window."

Path To Judaism
Throughout, Andrea Myers refuses to
shrink from life.
She left her family's Lutheran church
when she had too many questions that
went unanswered (and later fell in love with
Judaism for its embrace of questions).
As a young teen, she kept two diaries: a
fake one, which she filled with pictures from
teen magazines and stories she overheard
other girls telling, while the other diary, hid-
den deeper in her drawer, detailed her first
crushes on female teachers and friends.
After high school, she chose to attend
Brandeis University outside Boston, mostly
to get away from Long Island, but knowing
little of the school and unaware of its large
Jewish presence. There, she met friends
who introduced her to Jewish life, came out
as a lesbian and began a long friendship
with Rabbi Al Axelrad, the Hillel rabbi.



A Rabbi's Journey

from Silent Nights

to High Holy Days

"After my rejection of
the trinity of Rudolph,
the Tooth Fairy and
the Easter Bunny, Jesus
didn't stand a chance.
Years later, when I
told my parents I was
becoming a Jew, the only
response they gave was a
brief expression of relief
Since I had already told
them I was gay, they
said, At least you're
returning to God.' Six
months later, I told them
I was going to become a
rabbi instead of a doctor.
My mother said that I
was 'flushing a perfectly
good medical career
down the crapper.'"

— Rabbi Andrea Myers,

in "The Choosing: A Rabbi's Journey

from Silent Nights to High Holy Days"

After graduating, she went to Israel to
study at the co-ed Pardes yeshivah; she
learned about kashrut in the kitchens of
the houses she cleaned in order to cover
her tuition expenses.
In Jerusalem, she underwent a tradi-
tional conversion, and when she returned
to America after two years, she enrolled at
the Academy for Jewish Religion — work-
ing her way through school as a tutor and
medical technician.
While attending an interfaith confer-
ence in Germany as a rabbinical student,
she met the woman who is now her part-
ner, then studying at Oxford. They had a
religious ceremony in New York in 2001

and a civil wedding in Canada in 2003.
They now have two daughters and live in
Riverdale, N. Y.
"I feel so lucky to be who I am, doing
what I do," she says.
In her chapter on Shavuot,"Take Two
Tablets," Myers describes her path toward
conversion. She writes of the biblical
Abraham, about reading the Talmud from
beginning to end in English when she
first arrived in Israel before beginning
her studies at Pardes, marking holidays in
Jerusalem and tasting, for the first time,
gefilte fish, whose "slippery coldness and
fishiness" was an unpleasant surprise
(she thought the fluffy white objects on

the rabbi's table were matzah balls served
without soup).
She also describes her visit to the mik-
vah for her conversion ceremony and,
a week later, her bat mitzvah at Pardes,
where she led services and read Torah for
the first time.
She touches on kashrut, denominations,
theology, Jewish history, many memories,
her love of Israel and her wish that "mod-
em Israel was a place where I could live
and work as a liberal lesbian rabbi and be
happy and embraced, but it's not:'

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