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Four Barnard alumnae make list of America's Top 50 Rabbis

For the second consecutive year, four Barnard alumnae were named among Newsweek/The Daily Beast's list of America's Top 50 Rabbis. 

Jacqueline Koch Ellenson '77

Women rabbis have no advocate more steadfast than Jacqueline Koch Ellenson. As the director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, Ellenson, 56, works to address gender inequities and to promote women’s advancement in the Reform rabbinate. One particular area of focus: making the Jewish workforce more hospitable to rabbis seeking flexibility and work-life balance. Amid opposition from ultra-Orthodox groups—and arrests, including 10 last month, of female worshipers for the “crime” of wearing a prayer shawl while praying at the Western Wall—Koch Ellenson has galvanized large segments of the American Jewish community behind women’s right to participate in group worship at Judaism’s holiest site. She is working with the group Women of the Wall to develop programming in honor of that organization’s 25th anniversary later this year. Koch Ellenson is married to HUC-JIR president David Ellenson

Joy Levitt '75

Joy Levitt’s quest to make Hebrew school more practical, flexible, and inspiring came to fruition this past year with the launch of her Jewish Journey Project. The initiative empowers children in grades 3 to 7 to shape their own supplementary Jewish education; they can choose from classes like Jewish architecture, Hebrew immersion, and holiday baking and from a wide range of volunteer opportunities. In its inaugural year, more than 200 New York families have taken part in the program, and Levitt, 59, the executive director of the JCC in Manhattan, said there is widespread interest in adapting the model elsewhere. Under Levitt’s leadership, the JCC has become a force in Jewish educational and cultural programming and community service. Its Upper West Side building became a makeshift supply distribution center in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Sara Hurwit '99

Yeshivat Maharat, a four-year program training Orthodox women as spiritual leaders, will graduate its first class in June, a milestone bound to intensify the debate over women’s roles in Modern and centrist Orthodoxy. Sara Hurwitz, 36, a protegé of Rabbi Avi Weiss, is the school’s dean. Ordained in 2009 and ultimately bestowed the title “rabba,” Hurwitz serves as a full member of the clergy at Weiss’s Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and is in demand as a public speaker. The spotlight on Hurwitz has been harsh at times, but “no matter the darts thrown at her, she’s able to persevere and move forward,” Weiss said.

Sharon Kleinbaum '81

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah—New York’s largest LGBT synagogue — turns 40 this year and is in the process of building an $18 million synagogue center. The congregation’s longevity and growth is due, in no small part, to Sharon Kleinbaum, who has served as its senior rabbi for more than two decades. During that time Kleinbaum, 53, has pushed the Jewish community to open its institutions and leadership circles to LGBT Jews and to put gay civil rights on its agenda. Kleinbaum recently joined forces with the Rev. Al Sharpton, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and others in protesting the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, which critics believe unfairly targets minority groups. She has also voiced her support for a City Council proposal that would guarantee paid sick leave