Rabbi Joui Hessel, 36, often finds people have a stereotypical idea of what a woman rabbi would look like—and she's not it. A self-avowed girl's girl, she gets regular manicures and loves being feminine. But she, too, has experienced resistance from men when it comes to her religious career choice.
"I remember meeting a guy at a social event and we totally hit it off. He took my number. We had a mutual friend who subsequently told me that the guy found out I was studying to be a rabbi and he got freaked out and he didn't call," says Hessel. For a while, she stopped telling people her career when she first met them. But now that she lives in Washington, DC, she finds things a little easier: "Being a public figure is not as intimidating."
She admits, though, that men are sometimes put off by her being a rabbi. "My schedule is erratic and hectic," she says. "There's nothing more embarrassing than meeting someone and saying, 'I totally want to go out with you. Let's book Thursday night. I'll call you if a shiva (a visit related to a death) comes up.' But that is the life."
She says she'd like to meet a man who is Jewish and is supportive of her career choice, as she would be of his. Ideally, he'd have a degree of devotion to his faith, but not having it wouldn't be a deal breaker.
Rabbi Idit Jacques is 39 and vice president of Jewish Education and Identity at the Columbus (Ohio) Jewish Federation. She met her husband of 18 months, a law professor, on JDate.com, a well-known Jewish dating site. Columbus has a small Jewish community, so over the two years her profile was online, there were only about a dozen replies, but finally she met "the one." Within eight months, they were engaged.
She says online sites ease the pressure for men considering dating women of the clergy. They can look at the profiles in the comfort of their homes and decide if they're comfortable with the women's occupation. She adds that one of her good friends, a Presbyterian minister, met her husband on eHarmony.com.
Adam Berkowitz met his wife, a Conservative rabbi, on an online dating site, although in her profile she listed her occupation as "community educator." He didn't know she was a rabbi until after their initial e-mail exchange. He went ahead with their first in-person meeting without hesitation, as he'd liked everything he'd gotten to know via email and on the phone. A musician, he knew what it was like to be prejudged based on occupation. Back in his dating days some women were disinterested in him because of perceived lack of job security.
"I decided to look at it as the person is not necessarily her job," says Berkowitz, 30. "I saw her as a person and a woman first." He also took time to learn what his wife's job entailed and felt completely comfortable with it.
But even if the Internet has made dating a little easier for female clergy, they still face career-specific romantic hurdles. As Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson, director of the Women's Rabbinic Network, an organization of Reform rabbis, says: "Women of the clergy provide kind of a lens into some of the larger issues that all women in professional life have—only more so."