The Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinical arm of the Reform Jewish Movement, will welcome its first openly gay president in a ceremony on Monday morning. Denise L. Eger will take up the mantle of leadership after 27 years of service.
This will not be Eger’s first presidency. She was also the first female and openly gay president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis, as well as the founding president of the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Interfaith Clergy Association. Eger was previously voted in as the president-elect for the Conference in 2013.
“I’m incredibly humbled to have been selected,” she said in an interview. “It’s a wonderful tribute to all those LGBT colleagues and allies who worked so hard to channel hearts and minds and to work for equality and to cast the widest open tent for Judaism.”
Eger, 55, is also the founding rabbi of her current synagogue, Congregation Kol Ami, based in West Hollywood, California. Her initiation as president of the Conference coincides with the organization’s 25th anniversary of supporting the ordination of gay rabbis. This year, the organization has also passed a resolution calling for the inclusion of transgender rabbis.
“This is a full arc of working very hard for religious rights and civil rights,” said Eger. She hopes that the measures passed by the Conference will help to abolish hiring discriminations and to educate the lay community.
Reform Judaism is the largest Jewish movement in America, including some 2,000 rabbis and 862 congregations. It was the first of the major American Jewish movements to take steps toward supporting same-sex relationships by calling for civil rights protections for gay and lesbian individuals as early as 1977. Today, gay acceptance has become the norm in most American Jewish groups.
“It’s about human rights and human dignity,” said Eger. “If you can be a rabbi, if you can be a person of faith, if you can serve a community as their pastor, and you can have the opportunity to begin to reconcile all of those issues, it speaks volumes.”