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Rori Picker Neiss Addresses at the Conscience Plenary

Rori Picker Neiss addressed the Conscience Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Good afternoon, my name is Rory Picker Neiss and I’m honored to serve as part of the Board of Trustees here at the Parliament to work on behalf of our entire St. Louis Jewish community as Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council and to serve as a member of the clergy in my tradition of Orthodox Judaism.

My community is not one that has widely accepted the ordination of women and since stepping into my role, I have experienced people walk out of the room when I start to speak. Faith leaders refuse to participate in programs if I would appear next to them on stage. Colleagues print public letters of condemnation against me repeatedly. Search committees tell me that my application would never even be considered. All of these only because I am a woman, a woman who seeks deeper learning, a woman who teaches others how to become closer to their own faith.

My friends, I wish that I, that women like me, as we come together in this convening to wrestle with the dangerous implications of climate change, the perilous threats to our democracy, the overwhelming need of migrants and refugees, and so much more. I wish that women like me, that women like us, were truly the greatest problem facing our faith communities. But the stories that I described pale in comparison to the horrors that so many face.

The abuse and violence, exploitation, and sexual abuse that countless women, non-binary and transgender people encounter on a daily basis. But here’s the thing when we ridicule and demean women and those who are non-binary and transgender. When we perpetuate the idea that one has to be born a particular gender in order to access the wisdom of our own traditions and the path to the divine we make our faith communities instruments of abuse perpetuating not only systems of inequity but creating structures in which the powerful few can corrupt our ancient wisdom create false dichotomies and manipulate those who are already marginalized and abused in our societies. And once we allow those ideas to take hold or worse once we create those ideas we become powerless to control their reach and we bear the responsibility for all the harm done in our name and beyond friends.

Let us commit ourselves to answer this call to conscience. Let us commit ourselves to this culture of equal rights and the unmitigated partnership between all sexes. Let our faith communities forge the path towards mutual respect, partnership and understanding, mutual concern, tolerance, readiness for reconciliation, and love. And may we all merit to witness a world made stronger healthier, and holier, because of all the people embraced and empowered within it.

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