Person of Interest: Rabbi Dr. Jana L. De Benedetti
B’nai Zion Congregation
SB: How did you decide to become a rabbi? What influenced your decision?
I was in 4th grade and I realized that being a rabbi is who I am. I love to learn. I love to teach. Even on the playground, kids would come to me for advice. My dad got a job where we could settle down finally. We chose one (a synagogue) that was a warm, welcoming, comfortable place. The youth group led one service that I went to. Teenagers were all around the room leading a service and it was so powerful and moving. It made me want to do this. I went to religious school and I learned to read Hebrew and I loved it. Anyone who knew me, knew that I wanted to be a rabbi.
SB: Would you say there are separate challenges for you as a female rabbi that a male one may not experience? Why or why not?
I don’t notice the part about being a female rabbi. In the 70s it would have been unheard of for a female to even be able to purchase a prayer shawl. In the Jewish tradition, women are considered to naturally be more spiritual while men are considered more physical. So it’s not surprising that women make great spiritual leaders.
SB: Were there other women that studied with you at seminary? How many?
Half of the class. Now, it’s almost no men at all, which is so cool. I’m the only female rabbi in Louisiana. I was the first female rabbi in Shreveport.
SB: Does living in the South influence the way you practice?
In the Shreveport area, I’ve never had a problem or felt funny about being a female rabbi. There’s more of a mystery about being a rabbi or even being Jewish. My gender isn’t the mystery. Part of my role here isn’t just to my congregation, but I’m also a community spiritual leader. I teach at other churches and work with other faiths as well.
SB: What message do you hope to leave our community?
If we’re talking from a woman’s perspective, the community will find that women are very affective spiritual leaders, inspiring spiritual leaders. My statement is more about making sure that everyone realizes we’re all created in God’s image and we need to treat each other as equals. Everything I do is me trying to ensure that our community treats each other equally. We are responsible for making this whole community one we’re proud to live in and be a part of.
SB: How does your family feel about you being a rabbi?
My whole family is proud but by the time I was ordained my grandparents and my dad were gone. But they knew I wanted to be a rabbi my whole life. My mom is very proud and supportive.