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Asking the Clergy: Who are the important women of your faith?

From left, the Rev. Lynn Sullivan of Garden

From left, the Rev. Lynn Sullivan of Garden City Community Church, Rabbi Susan Elkodsi of Malverne Jewish Center and the Rev. Mark Genszler of St. Francis Episcopal Church. Photo Credit: Sullivan Family; Helene Santo; Christo Allegra

Women’s History Month continues through March, honoring "women who have led efforts to end war, violence and injustice and pioneered the use of nonviolence to change society," according to the website of the National Women's History Museum. This week’s clergy discuss women who have influenced their personal lives in a positive way or have been a role model for all — in recent and biblical times.

The Rev. Lynn Sullivan

Senior pastor, Garden City Community Church, United Church of Christ

Growing up, the important women of my faith included Sunday school teachers and Girl Scout leaders. They taught me the foundations of my faith, the fundamentals of being a good person, and provided models of how to act and give back to my church and community.

My mother, however, taught me how to laugh, love, live and die. Her doctor told us her cancer had spread, and she died four weeks to the day of burying our paternal grandmother. During those weeks, Mother took care of all unfinished business, wrote her children a letter, divided her most valuable possessions and told us daily how much she loved us. She seemed at peace with her fate and cherished each day. Being pregnant with her first grandchild, I found it too painful to talk about a baby she would never hold, nor did we have the time to go over all the things I needed to learn.

Yet, throughout my pregnancy and the rearing of my two daughters, I felt her presence. I am confident she continues to put amazing women of faith in my path each day.

Rabbi Susan Elkodsi

Malverne Jewish Center

All women are important in Judaism (as are all men and those whose gender identity isn’t defined). While the biblical canon is quite patriarchal, there’s no question that the women — often unnamed — are the movers and shakers behind the scenes.

Had Eve not eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, life would have no meaning or purpose and humanity would not have flourished. We just celebrated the holiday of Purim, in which both queens, Esther and Vashti, modeled courage and strength in their own ways. Moses would not have become who he was without his mother, Yocheved, and sister Miriam. Women are mentioned throughout rabbinical literature as scholars in their own right, and in their roles as wives. Through these women, we get a glimpse of how life was lived in both the land of Israel and Babylonian exile at various times in history.

Many women have been influential in the Jewish world over the past century or so; they are trailblazers, becoming rabbis and cantors, scholars and educators. It would be impossible to name just one or two, but they know that I stand on their shoulders.

The Rev. Mark Genszler

Rector, St. Francis Episcopal Church, North Bellmore

Mindful of my male gender as I attempt an answer, a powerful list comes to mind, including the matriarchs of the Hebrew Scriptures; the many women of the early Christian movement; the women who have spoken powerfully within and to patriarchal cultures in the name of God ever since. They include Rahab, Judith, Esther, Mary, Mary Magdalene and Lydia. The Desert Mothers. Much later, Elizabeth of Hungary, born to great privilege, devoted much of her life to giving away her wealth and working for justice — like one of my favorite Episcopalians, Eleanor Roosevelt. Pauli Murray, the first African-American woman ordained an Episcopal priest, evokes for me the many women — known and unknown — who have lit the way forward with the torch of truth and justice for my own tradition, in ways great and small. They have deepened my spiritual life with their own brilliance, commitment and example.

Today, the many transgender people in my tradition (women among them) point us to the theological truth that our deepest identity is liberated and held in God, beyond genderedness. As St. Paul writes, “… there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

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