Yom Kippur 1890 was a typical day for Jewish repentance but an extraordinary day for Jewish women: It was the first time a woman delivered a sermon from the pulpit.
Addressing a mixed gathering of Orthodox and Reform Jews in Spokane, Washington, a woman named Ray Frank underscored the importance of the moment. “For a woman to be at any time asked to give counsel to my people would be a mark of esteem,” she said. “But on this night of nights, on Yom Kippur eve…is indeed a great honor.”
Her message was one of unity in the face of community disagreement over “whether we should cling to the old orthodox style or take up the reform that has gradually been instituted in the Jewish church” Frank urged the assembled to create a permanent, combined congregation in Spokane.
Almost immediately, she became a sensation – speaking to Jewish groups up and down the West Coast. Although never ordained, Frank became known as “the Girl Rabbi of the Golden West.” As Yom Kippur approaches again, let’s hail the Jackie Robinson of synagogue women.
Watch a brief history of Ray Frank: