Rabbi Denise L Eger

The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) has appointed its first ever openly lesbian (LGBT) president.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis is the highest religious body for Reform Judaism rabbis. The body was founded in 1889, and during its annual convention in Philadelphia last week, Denise Eger, 55, was announced president of the conference.

Rabbi Denise Eger, who will be acting in capacity as the President of the socially progressive North American Reform Judaism religious denomination, says that she was not “one to wave the rainbow flag,” (declaring her gay sexuality) back in 1988 when she was first ordained a rabbi – a time openly gay people were not officially allowed to become rabbis in Reform Judaism.

Saying that her classmates and some professors at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York knew of her sexuality, she revealed that she was largely discreet about it back then.

“I was very quiet about it,” she told Philly.com ahead of her installment. She added that she however did come out to the public in 1990 in a Los Angeles Times article. She recalls that when her sexuality was known, no one would hire her. She had no option than to accept an offer to work at a synagogue that was formed as a refuge for gay people.

25 years later, Eger says, “the Reform [Judaism] movement is celebrating a change in its policy that welcomed LBGT people.”

Eger began working in synagogues at age 12, in the mailroom of the Memphis congregation her family attended. By college, she aspired to become a rabbi or cantor, knowing fully well at the time that it meant she would have to sacrifice her hopes of having a spouse and children.

“It is an amazing arc of history and speaks to the way Reform Judaism has encouraged the discernment and education that has made it possible to make the movement more inclusive,” Rabbi Eger said.

“Loving your neighbor as yourself remains an overriding moral value and reminds us that we engage with another from a place of love and kindness, which are antidotes to the hate and exclusiveness of this world,” she added.

Reform Judaism was the earliest of the major Jewish movements to take formal steps toward recognizing same-sex relationships, and at this year’s annual convention, the body will be releasing a new revised prayer book which is more inclusive of LGBTI people.

According to information available from Gay Star News, “the text, which is American Judaism’s best selling prayer book, will be used during the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and includes gender neutral blessings for same-sex couples and transgender people.”

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