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Female Rabbi Pens Open Letter Decrying Hollywood's Depiction of Jewish Leaders

"We're young women, old women, clean-shaven, young men, LGBTQ, and sometimes, we're even blonde, or red-headed, or of Middle Eastern, Asian or African descent."

Credit: Shutterstock

Rabbi Jordie Gerson isn't happy with how Hollywood portrays Jewish faith leaders onscreen.

Gerson, who believes that certain rigid male-dominant stereotypes make it more difficult for her to do her job, penned an open letter to Tinseltown on the Huffington Post titled, "I Don't Have a Beard or Side Curls and I Look Just Like You: American Judaism's Image Problem."

Credit: Shutterstock

At the center of her frustration is the way she believes Jews are depicted in popular media. She said there is often a monolithic characterization, but that the reality of what contemporary Jewish leaders look like is quite different.

"Almost every time I see myself represented in American movies, television shows or advertisements, I have a beard and a kippah," she wrote. "Often, I'm wearing a black hat, side curls, and almost always, a white button-down shirt and black jacket. I am almost never a woman. I am, according to American media, what a rabbi looks like."

Gerson believes that most American Jewish leaders no longer reflect this description.

Rabbi Jordie Gerson hit out at the media for its portrayal of Jewish faith leaders. (Image source: Rabbi Jordie/Facebook)

"We're young women, old women, clean-shaven, young men, LGBTQ, and sometimes, we're even blonde, or red-headed, or of Middle Eastern, Asian or African descent," Gerson wrote. "Some of us are even attractive. Personally, I'm 5'0", blue-eyed, with long brown hair, and I rarely wear a kippah unless I'm officiating at lifecycle events or prayer. I couldn't grow a beard if I wanted to (I'm not complaining)."

From there, Gerson took aim at Hollywood, including Comedy Central, but also The New York Times and companies like American Apparel for depicting Jews as "bearded ultra-orthodox rabbis or nebbishy older men."

The rabbi also questioned why Jewish leaders are made to look so "other" or "different."

Gerson said such stereotyping makes it harder for the rabbis who don't meet these rigid descriptions -- especially women -- to do their jobs.

"When we stand on the bima to deliver a sermon, or officiate at a wedding or funeral, or comfort a family by a deathbed, or meet with students on university campuses, and the first reaction is that we don't 'look' like rabbis, or that we're too young, or too feminine, our holy vocation is denigrated and belittled, and we're judged less fit for the job before we've even opened our mouths," she wrote.

She added, "That's because the Jews we serve don't recognize us. I don't either. It's time for that to change."

According to Gerson's biography, she has served as a campus rabbi at both Yale University and the University of Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School; she received her ordination from New York City's Hebrew Union College.

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