Rachel Timoner, 51, rabbi helping to amplify the voices of liberal Jews


Rabbi Rachel Timoner of Congregation Beth Elohim was selected as one of the New York Jewish Week’s 36 to Watch (formerly 36 Under 36). This distinction honors leaders, entrepreneurs and changemakers who are making a difference in New York’s Jewish community. In 2020, she was a cofounder of New York Jewish Agenda, an organization formed to amplify progressive Jewish voices on issues like social justice, fighting antisemitism and supporting a “democratic vision of Israel.” Timoner lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. 

For the full list of this year’s “36ers,” click here.

New York Jewish Week: Tell us about your work and accomplishments.

Timoner: My work in recent years includes co-founding New York Jewish Agenda, culminating this month in a gathering of 55 women rabbis with Mayor Eric Adams, demonstrating that the vast majority of New York Jews have women leaders and a progressive/liberal agenda. Along with Pastor Robert Waterman, we’ve led CBE and Antioch Baptist Church into long term partnership to engage in deep and real dialogue about racism and antisemitism that we hope will lead to a powerful Jewish-Black alliance for systemic change in Brooklyn. 

Previously we held a study series on systemic racism in America and an antiracism process at CBE which led to a Dismantling Racism Team, which was part of the successful campaigns to raise the age of criminal responsibility and to win bail reform, speedy trial reform and discovery reform in the State of New York. I engaged an architect to design a sukkah about the refugee experience that led to the formation of a large member-led refugee task force that resettled refugees in Brooklyn and advocated for immigrant rights, until it spun off into an independent non-profit.

Along with Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, I helped launch RAC-NY and Reform California, two statewide efforts to bring Reform Jewish values to bear on core issues of our times, such as immigration, affordable housing and racial profiling. 

How does your Jewish identity or experience influence your work?

Everything about my work comes from identifying with a people who have known exile and oppression, who have survived against all odds, who never ever give up hope and who persist in the pursuit of freedom and justice.

Was there a formative Jewish experience that shaped your life path?

I left synagogue life after becoming bat mitzvah because my rabbi was unkind to my disabled father and because I found the synagogue to be vapid and materialistic. But then I made myself try out a new synagogue in my mid-20s, and I felt alive and home in a way I didn’t expect. These experiences help me to understand those who feel alienated from organized Jewish life and those who are seeking a way home.

In one sentence, what was your best experience as a Jewish New Yorker?

Singing “Shehechiyanu” with 55 women rabbis and cantors as we filled the mayor’s conference room in City Hall.

What’s your favorite place in New York to take an out-of-town guest?

Prospect Park.

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