Distinguished Alumni Award presentation to Malka Drucker from Rabbi Drucker’s rabbinal school, The Academy for Jewish Religion (NYC), May 2007.
INTERVIEW WITH RABBI DRUCKER
This interview was done for Rabbi Drucker’s rabbinical school (AJR).
The Academy for Jewish Religion (NYC) was founded in 1956. Initially called The Academy for Liberal Judaism (and then The Academy for Higher Jewish Learning), it was granted a charter to ordain rabbis and instruct Jewish leaders by the Regents of the University of the State of New York.The Academy has taken its place as a Jewish seminary of major significance. It attracts men and women of depth and excellence who wish to study with teachers representing the whole spectrum of Jewish religious life.
Rabbi Malka Drucker is the author of many biographies and non-fictions books including books on Frida Kahlo, Holocaust rescuers, and her latest book on women spiritual leaders. Malka was ordained by the Academy in 1998 and currently serves as Rabbi of HaMakom Congregation in New Mexico. We caught Rabbi Drucker while she was driving from her home to the airport in Albuquerque and asked her these six questions.
MALKA, WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A WRITER?
My parents were both television writers in the fifties. My mother also wrote for “true adventures” magazines geared for men. She wrote articles like, “Whirlpool of Terror” about an encounter with barracudas and she didn’t know how to swim! She wrote an adventure story about Climbing the Himmalayas and she wasn’t a mountain climber. I learned from her that what it took to be a writer was sitting down at the typewriter everyday and having a great imagination. By the time I was pregnant with Max and Ivan was three, I was already tired of reading the same books over and over and started telling them stories. I decided to take a course on writing for children and learned that to be a children’s writer, I had to write for me as a kid. As a kid, I would have died for baseball, so my first book was about the baseball hero Tom Sever. I love writing children’s books because they help me to connect to the key parts of my life as a child. Rabbi Arnold J. Wolf says that life is like baseball. You stand in the outfield waiting and being vigilant. You are waiting for the moment that the ball comes to you and you have to be awake and ready for it. In life, we also wait for the moment, but to be ready we have to practice and be aware of who we are and who we want to be.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A RABBI?
I had been writing books for ten years successfully, but I felt that something was missing for me. I had thought a lot about being a rabbi. In fact, I had this wild passion for it, but I didn’t do anything about it until one day when I was sitting on a beach in California with my friend Yaffa Chase and she said to me, “You know, you would make a wonderful rabbi!” I was forty but I needed someone to give me permission. That was February and by July I was in Yerushalayim beginning my studies with HUC. While there I met a rabbi named Barry Block who introduced me to his mother Gay who was a talented photographer. Though I had been married for 19 years, Gay and I fell in love and I left Jerusalem mid-year to reorganize my life. In 1989, I decided to try again for the rabbinate. I thought of private ordination and but people kept mentioning AJR to me. I investigated and liked it immediately. I didn’t want to be in a place where nobody knew my name.
WHAT WAS THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR YEARS AT THE ACADEMY?
It was a wonderful experience overall. The revelation for me was that I could sit in a classroom with others and not only learn but learn more because of my interactions with my classmates. Shohama Weiner, then the President of the Academy, created the energy that we could create a community that brought out the best in each other. This is a wonderful model for the Academy. It taught us how to create community in the communities that we were to serve because we had lived in in the seminary.
NOW THAT YOU SERVE ON THE BOARD OF AJR, WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF THE ACADEMY?
I share Shohama’s vision that the Academy must be an institution with heart. I would like our students to be very knowledgeable academically, but not scholars necessarily. I envision the emphasis being on training rabbis and cantors who are prepared to teach Judaism as a path of lovingkindness. I also would like our students to be ready to face the future of Judaism-a future which I do not believe will be so denominationally centered. Pluralism is important to me because so many Jews have been outsiders to our community for a generation or more. They have little knowledge or connection to the Jewish community here or in Israel. But, they have a strong desire to return somehow. We need to train our clergy to do anything that doesn’t violate their own principals to bring people closer to God. It seems to me that people are learning that to deny the spirit as one of the elements of our being is as nonsensical as denying curiosity. The answers provided by the material world of science are unsatisfying. Our rabbis need to know how to open the door wide to each and every seeker.
THERE IS A LOT OF INTEREST NOW IN FRIEDA KAHLO. WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING ABOUT HER LIFE?
Frieda was half Jewish and that’s interesting. I originally wrote the book for young adults because I wanted them to see how she could still be productive and create a life after her accident. I wanted them to learn that you have to use manure to make roses. Frieda taught us about herself by painting her own life. I thought the movie version was pretty pedestrian, but I enjoyed the music and wardrobe and the fact that they filmed it where she actually lived and worked.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LATEST BOOK, WHITE FIRE: A PORTRAIT OF WOMEN SPIRITUAL LEADERS IN AMERICA (SKYLIGHTS PATH PUBLISHING 2003)
The Midrash recounts that the Torah is white fire written on black fire. White fire represents the unseen another language that we don’t know. There are two messages in the Torah and if we can only read one, we are missing one. When women’s voices are included in the world’s wisdom, maybe things will come out better. My book includes stories of 29 women and my response to what they are saying. Writing this book taught me that women religious leaders have a similarity of experience. Regardless of whether I sit with a native American elder, a Wiccan, or an Episcopal priest, I feel in the presence of a common message and style. While the feminine dwells in everyone, the language and style of women is distinct. Followers of women spiritual leaders say that women listen well, are empathic, less hierarchical, more approachable.