Convert aims to be first black woman rabbi in U.S.

Saturday, March 30, 2002

DENVER -- Alysa Stanton's spiritual journey started in her childhood, when she and her family attended a Pentecostal church. As a young adult, she explored other religions, eventually choosing Judaism.

Now, at age 38, she is poised to take her faith another step by studying to become a rabbi -- the first black woman rabbi in the United States, according to experts.

"I want to be a rabbi who breaks barriers, inspires dreams and builds bridges," said Stanton, who is preparing to start the five-year course of study leading to ordination.

There are black rabbis in the Ethiopian Jewish community. But if Stanton completes the program at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, the Reform movement's seminary, she will be the first black woman rabbi in this country, Jewish authorities believe.

"It's a reminder that Jews come in all colors and all ethnic groups," said Rabbi Richard Levy, director of rabbinic studies at Hebrew Union College.

Officials at the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside Philadelphia, and Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America said they knew of no black women rabbis.

Stanton presently works as children's psychotherapist.

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