Someone You Should Know: South Dakota’s first ordained woman rabbi inspiring others

Published: Nov. 4, 2022 at 8:44 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Rabbi Cathy Nemiroff has always followed her passion, which is Judaism.

“I didn’t set out to be the first female rabbi in South Dakota, it was after the fact, we discovered that I am. I feel that it is an honor, to some extent, it is a responsibility to represent Egalitarian Judaism,” said Rabbi Nemiroff.

There weren’t many trailblazers before her for inspiration, but Rabbi Nemiroff made her own way.

“Previously, women did not have a leadership role in the synagogue and it was in 1972 I believe that the first woman was ordained as a rabbi and it’s taken a while to catch up,” said Rabbi Nemiroff.

“From the time I was in college if not before, I was extremely interested in Judaism and doing something Jewish, but I didn’t know the first women rabbi was studying to become a rabbi, at that time the door seemed closed. So I didn’t even pursue the possibility. I guess I waited until the opportunity presented itself, I was a lane leader at a relatively new congregation in the Twin Cities and just the floodgates opened,” said Rabbi Nemiroff.

Through happenstance, Mt. Zion Temple of Sioux Falls decided to hire a woman rabbi to lead services and holidays on a monthly basis.

“Mt. Zion did not set out to hire a woman rabbi, we set out to hire an ordained rabbi who would work with us, a reformed Jewish congregation on a part-time basis which is what she’s doing, and as things fell into place, we had the good fortune of finding Rabbi Nemiroff,” said a member of Mt. Zion Congregation Matilda Oppenheimer.

With a relatively small congregation, Mt. Zion recently celebrated their 100th anniversary.

“She brings a level of authority of the Jewish experience with us that we haven’t had in the past. And being able to see a female leading us in services reflects the community who we are,” said the President of the Board of Directors Mt. Zion Congregation Jen Dreiske.

The response so far has been positive.

“We feel very lucky that things have worked out and that we’ve found each other,” said Oppenheimer.

“It’s really important for my son being 8 years old to be able to see a woman have that leadership and that responsibility to provide the direction of our community. I want to teach my son that women can do just as everything that men do,” said Dreiske.

Being an inspiration to those who may also want to pursue dreams out of the traditional norm, Rabbi Nemiroff doesn’t take her achievements lightly.

“When I saw women becoming rabbis, something that had been in the back of my mind became possible. There are more women ordained rabbis now, but if I can be an inspiration to younger girls or really to anybody who is on the margins, people who want to do something untraditional, that’s fantastic,” said Rabbi Nemiroff.

Overall, she values teaching the congregation, leading, and connecting with the community the most.

“I love what I’m doing. I love the work of a rabbi. I love the Jewish community, and that was really part of my entering into this field was the love of community,” said Rabbi Nemiroff.