Progressively Speaking: A female vice president is a great leap forward

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Progressively Speaking: A female vice president is a great leap forward

Following the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Rabbi Charley Baginsky looks at importance of having women in high office

Kamala Harris waves to crowds alongside her Jewish husband Doug Emhoff
Kamala Harris waves to crowds alongside her Jewish husband Doug Emhoff

A number of years ago, my daughter bought a book that has remained a favourite in our house. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls features 100 extraordinary women whose stories are accompanied by full page portraits by female artists.

Inside this beautiful and empowering book are ancient philosophers and sports stars, ballerinas and lawyers, scientists and pirates. And right at the back there is a blank page for the reader to draw themselves and tell their own story, a mirror in which to see themselves reflected.

It is impossible to underestimate the importance of seeing yourself reflected in leadership positions.

That’s why Kamala Harris being sworn in as the first female vice president in American history gives hope. It is crucial to have leaders at every level who represent the full range of diversity in society.

In Jewish tradition, and particularly in the Liberal tradition in which I grew up, we look internally and seek out the female voices and women who took on radical leadership roles, from Miriam to Deborah, from Golda Meir to Hannah Szenes.

Looking round the Zoom calls on recent CEO forums within the Jewish community, one can visibly see the signs that women are leading many of our Jewish communal institutions.

However, we have to remember that progress is not linear and never secure. It takes work and maintenance and a consciousness.

We need to ensure our daughters across the community see themselves reflected in all areas of leadership and are able to imagine themselves there, not as the only one, but
as part of a diverse team of women leaders.

But there is a further responsibility that those of us in the privileged position of leadership have and that is to empower other women to lead and to lead collectively.

As Amanda Gorman, America’s first national youth poet laureate and the youngest poet accorded the honour of delivering the presidential inaugural poem, said: “I can only unlock my sister’s shackles if I break my own. And I can only break my own with another ally beside me, helping me slot in the key.”

  •  Rabbi Charley Baginsky  is chief executive officer of Liberal Judaism

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