By Ben Steelman
Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.
“I don’t call myself a female rabbi,” said Julie Kozlow. “I’m a rabbi who happens to be a woman.”
In Southeastern North Carolina, however, Kozlow is a pioneer. Since taking over the pulpit at Wilmington’s B’nai Israel synagogue — succeeding Rabbi Robert Waxman, who retired in June — she’s the first and only woman to hold a rabbinate in this area.
The Conservative movement in Judaism, to which B’nai Israel belongs, did not begin ordaining women until 1985.
Amy Schneiderman broke the barrier in North Carolina, when she became a student rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Weldon, a Reform congregation. (She was greeted “politely but hesitantly,” noted author Leonard Rogoff in his book “Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina.”)
In 1993, Lucy H.K. Dinner joined Temple Beth Or in Raleigh, becoming the first woman to serve as a full-time, senior rabbi in the state.
In Wilmington, however, Rabbi Kozlow’s reception has been anything but hesitant.
“Rabbi Kozlow has brought an energetic and highly spiritual presence to our synagogue,” said Carl Samet, vice president of the congregation, who noted an uptick in attendance at services. After her installation Aug. 21, B’nai Israel members hoisted her in a chair above their shoulders and paraded her around the B’nai Israel fellowship hall.
“Women do bring a maternal perspective into the pulpit,” Kozlow said. “We have a whole different set of experiences, raising children.”
A Detroit native, Kozlow said she felt called to the rabbinate the day her first child was born.
“I had one of the ephiphinal moments when you feel something you’ve never felt before,” she said. “I suddenly knew that nothing is random. I knew the world was weighted with meaning. This was not just some touchy-feely moment. I felt there was something powerful in the universe and I wanted to be a part of it.”