“I am foremost a rabbi who happens to be African-American, not The African-American Rabbi” – Rabbi Alysa Stanton
On June 6 in Cincinnati, Alysa Stanton
became the first black woman in the United States ever ordained to the Jewish religion’s sacred post. This compassionate and tenacious spiritual leader will become rabbi at Congregation Bayt Shalom, a predominantly white 60-family synagogue in Greenville, N.C.
As a child, she was a self-proclaimed “old soul” and grew up curious about other religious philosophies outside of her Pentecostal upbringing. Though she explored numerous religions, her family’s move to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood outside of Cleveland opened her eyes to the Jewish culture. It wasn’t until she was in her twenties that she converted to Judaism after studying with a Denver rabbi.
Prior to her rabbinical training, Stanton received degrees in psychology and counseling from Colorado State University in Denver during which time she also studied at Lancaster University in England. Her career led her to working as a trained psychotherapist for several years in Colorado, specializing in grief and trauma. In fact, she was a first responder to students from Columbine High School after the tragic shooting in 1999.
A single mother of her 14 year-old adopted daughter, Shana, and a woman who has lost over 120 pounds, Rabbi Stanton is no stranger to challenges. While studying in Jerusalem during her first year of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, her daughter, then seven years old, was bullied, beat up and “literally kicked off of the bus” according to Stanton
. She describes how this experience and many others have made her more resilient in the monologue she created last fall called “Layers.”
There is no question that this remarkable, trail blazing woman will achieve her goals of breaking barriers, building bridges and giving hope. As wonderful as it is to be the first, that is not where she places her focus. Stating it best herself,
“I try not to focus on being the first. I focus on being the best — the best human being, the best rabbi I can be.”
Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer