A mentor of Rabbi Susan Einbinder, a Holocaust survivor and a prominent Jewish activist, once told her: “If the lesson we derive from the genocide is that ‘Never Again’ refers only to Jews, it would be a wrong and terrible lesson; the lesson should be for everyone.” This resonated and stayed with her ever since. It was not, however, foreign to the moral and ethical teachings she had received growing up, her parents having taught her to always care for the weak and vulnerable and to consider every human being equal and the same.
Einbinder grew up in Wayne, New Jersey, in a Jewish family, her father and mother 1st generation Americans, both scientists whose own parents had settled in America coming from Eastern Europe. She was exposed to the Jewish tradition and faith very early on, participating in family Jewish celebrations, accompanying her father to the synagogue on the various Jewish holidays. She attended public schools and in 4th grade joined an afterschool Jewish religious program learning Hebrew and the history of Judaism.
As an undergraduate, Einbinder followed the steps of her scientist parents, majoring in mathematics from Brown University. Her real love for literature, however, took her later to Columbia University for a PhD in medieval literature; but before completing her degree, she followed the advice of her hometown rabbi, Israel Dresner, a prominent social activist she admired, to enter a rabbinical school.
“I was confused and having a crisis of meaning,” she said. “I felt rabbinical studies would offer me a path of spiritual inner growth, and would allow me, thanks to the spiritual emphasis, an escape from the rat race I had been part of for too long.”
Very quickly, however, Einbinder realized the Hebrew Union College’s rabbinical program consisted more of vocational training, with a curriculum primarily designed to produce congregational rabbis. Interested more in academics than in organized group-oriented activities, she felt she did not belong, but not knowing what else to do and wanting to affirm herself, decided to remain enrolled anyway and completed the 5 year program.
From the beginning, Einbinder was always interested in human rights, justice and the plight of the weak. As the oldest child of five she was raised to take care of and look out for her younger sisters and brother; this transferred for her into taking care of and protecting the “littler.” She was in high school during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, and was exposed, at home as well, to the issues and upheavals of these agitated years. She identified with the images and figures of freedom and revolt in the news and wanted justice and right to prevail. In the summer of 1982 and in her 4th year of rabbinical studies she came across a protest stand against the then Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Shocked to discover that Israel was being criticized and depicted as the bad guy, she confronted those staffing the stand and argued with them; when invited to join their discussion group she accepted the challenge. This opened her eyes and led her to learn more about the situation in the occupied territories, to want to raise awareness about the real causes of the conflict and to work towards a just peace for both Israeli and Palestinians.
From there on Einbinder committed actively for peace in the Middle East, connecting with a new community of peace activists, Israeli and Arabs, Jews and non-Jews, who shared her values; she spoke at various forums, wrote letters to the editor, signed peace manifests, and in a way became the activist American rabbi for a just peace in the Middle East and in the world.
In the mid 80’s Einbinder lived in Jerusalem on and off for 3 years. Even though the primary purpose of her trip was to research and write a dissertation, her stay in Israel exposed her and linked her to the various local groups working for human rights, to leftists and resisters. While there she participated in the weekly vigils of Women in Black protesting the occupation, in the weekly trips into the Occupied Territories organized by Dai le-Kibbush (End the Occupation), and helped translate into English documents for the trial of several journalists sued by the government for collaboration with the Palestinian “enemy”, also for the trial of the Romanian 7, the seven Israelis who publicly defied the ban on meeting with PLO members by flying to Romania to do so in October 1986.
Back in the US, Einbinder worked part-time as a rabbi briefly before completing her doctorate, relocating in 1993 to Cincinnati to teach Hebrew literature at Hebrew Union College. In Cincinnati she continued her active involvement for human rights and peace and justice, locally, nationally and internationally. She volunteered for ETAN, condemning Indonesian occupation of East Timor; served on the board of Prospect House, a local drug rehabilitation center; spoke at anti-death penalty events; joined as a Jew, Concerned Clergy, an ecumenical clergy group formed in response to the 2001 Cincinnati riots; founded the short-lived JAN (Jewish Action Network), a group to promote good relationships between Jews and African-Americans; helped develop and participated in Christ Church Cathedral’s program and workshops to combat racism in the city; facilitated opportunities and venues for her students to get engaged in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.
All along Einbinder also continued to support human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Yesh Gvul, Physicians for Human Rights, Madre, etc. Until 2014, she served on the board of the Refuser Solidarity Network, which supports conscientious objector groups in Israel. In addition, and for several years, she mentored homeless women at the Anna Louise shelter, when it was located downtown Cincinnati, helping them develop a sense of identity, also build strength to face and deal with their personal situation.
“I like to quote this verse from Amos 5:24: Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” says Einbinder. “That’s what I believe in. I do not see ‘religion’ as something separate or separable from what makes up a moral or ethical outlook.” “Religions should not divide and isolate people,” she adds. “I find religious homogeneity claustrophobic and I personally do not think only of Jews or that I am different from others. My strongest belief is that we’re all equal, and that every human being deserves to be treated with compassion, decency and dignity.”
Einbinder will continue to use her beliefs, her moral and ethical values, to better this world and speak for the weak and the oppressed. She thinks that all religions have profound concern and beautiful teachings for peace and justice, but that the problem is that we do not listen to them. “Even worse,” she says, “we often use religions to fulfill our own political agenda and self centered interests, and thus end up condoning violence and wars.”
Einbinder left Cincinnati few years ago to settle in Providence, RI. She is currently a Professor of Hebrew & Judaic Studies and Comparative Literature at The University of Connecticut.
What is JUDAISM Judaism is a monotheistic Abrahamic religion, over 3,000 years old, with the written Torah (first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible) and the oral Torah (later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud) as its foundation. Judaism is considered to be the expression of the Covenant relationship God established with the Children of Israel. Different from polytheism, the Hebrew God's principal relationships are not with other gods, but with the world, and more specifically, with the people he created. As ethical monotheism, Judaism believes in one, unique and eternal God who is concerned with the actions of humankind and knows the thoughts and deeds of men; who will reward the good and punish the wicked; that the Messiah will come; and that the dead will be resurrected. Judaism is in general more concerned about actions than beliefs. With around 16 million adherents worldwide, Judaism is the tenth-largest religion in the world. Its texts, traditions and values have strongly influenced later Abrahamic religions, including Christianity and Islam.