Meet the Moderator of Ballots and Bellinis: Rabbi Jill Crimmings of Bet Shalom

Next Thursday, November 7, four powerful Jewish women involved with local politics will sit down together to talk about their involvement and experiences in politics at Ballots and Bellinis at Bet Shalom Congregation. Ballots and Bellinis is a program of Women Repair the World, a project of Minneapolis Jewish Federation Women’s Philanthropy and National Council of Jewish Women-Minnesota, providing impactful educational events for women and their allies.

The event is an opportunity not only to learn about the incredible work these four women are doing, but also to learn what we all can do to be more informed and involved heading into 2020 — a year guaranteed to be one of the biggest election years in recent memory.  

Rabbi Jill Crimmings of Bet Shalom will moderate the panel. Questions of making space for and involving women more deeply—whether in their communities, congregations or in politics—have been on her mind for some time now. 

“A year ago, at High Holidays, one of the sermons I gave was related to issues of pluralism, egalitarianism, Israel, and women’s issues,” she says. “I had a number of women approach me after [the sermon] who expressed that they were really interested in women’s issues, and equality, and motherhood, and women in the workplace, and the position of women in society. We spent most of last year in conversation about what it might look like to be intentional around social programming—providing an opportunity for women to come together—and also to be thoughtful about higher-level opportunities for people to dive deep into these issues.” 

From that conversation, she says, women who were uninvolved before with social programming began showing up. For Sukkot, she hosted a “Sushi and Sake in the Sukkah” event at her home, and 40 women across all age demographics showed up — three-quarters of whom had never been to a Bet Shalom event before.  

Rabbi Crimmings’ own background, as a rabbi and co-chair of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association, has also helped her think more deeply about the importance of intentionally building spaces for women and helping women gain access to those spaces that are typically male.  

“These conversations are happening amongst rabbis,” she says. “Women have been ordained as rabbis since 1972. Why is it that there are so few women in senior positions? You would think that by this stage, you would see more equal levels. But the reality is that what’s happening in the rabbinic [world] is what’s happening in the rest of society.” 

Knowing that these inequities exist societally means it’s essential for Jewish women to be given more tools to help them effectively use their voices.  

“[It’s so] important for us to put ourselves out there,” Rabbi Crimmings says, “and to not let the conversation be dominated by others. I am a big advocate of in whatever way works best, making a difference in the world. For some people, that’s running for office. For other people, it might be on-the-ground justice work or volunteering. There’s no one ‘right’ way to make change.” 

Ballots and Bellinis, she says, is an excellent example of the many forms that civic engagement can take.  

“There’s not only one path. For someone who feels like, ‘Okay, running for office is not for me’—that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference, or be involved.”  

The four women on the panel are Rep. Heather Edelson, District 49A; Deb Calvert, Minnetonka City Council; Stephanie Levine, District 197 School Board; and Judy Cook, Cook Girard Associates. Rabbi Crimmings will be asking them about their work and how they got involved in their communities.  

“If you don’t see people who look like yourself operating in certain spaces, it’s hard to imagine yourself in those positions,” Rabbi Crimmings says. “There are plenty of women in politics. There are Jewish women in politics. But the numbers compared to men are smaller.” 

The panelists will be discussing that and more on Thursday — but since Rabbi Crimmings will be behind the microphone that night, we thought we’d give a sneak peek at the questions the panelists will be answering by trying them out on the moderator herself! 


Q: What was your first involvement with something political? What, if any, challenges have you faced? What have you learned? 

A: When I was in high school, one of my classes was Current Events. I grew up in a place where I represented one end of the political spectrum, and every other kid represented the other side. It was very obvious to me that my teacher aligned with me, even though he never overtly said so. During the 2000 election, he assigned the class different networks to watch. He assigned us the network that didn’t align with our personal beliefs. The reason I still remember it and think about it a lot is that, in the realm of politics or justice work, it’s critical to think about things from the other side to truly try to take yourself out of your orbit, to try to see someone else’s perspective. I still try to do that personally and I try to encourage others.  

Q: Who in your community inspires you or has helped you get involved? 

A: I’ll pick two of my professors from rabbinical school, Rabbi Lisa Grant and Dr. Alyssa Gray. They are really different teachers. Alyssa Gray has her expertise in a field that is almost entirely dominated by men. She doesn’t really talk about being a woman in a field that’s basically 99 percent male-dominated. She just does it. She’s a premier scholar in her field. That attitude of “I’m going to excel and make it to the top”—that was an inspiration for me. Don’t get bogged down in how challenging it is, just get out there and do it. Lisa Grant, as a teacher in the school of education, helped me learn the importance of reflection and the inner work you have to do to feed yourself. She was really big on process and reflection. I’m seven years out of school and I still feel like every day I’m thinking about or using materials from my classes. My professors continue to guide the work that I do every day. 

QHow does the intersection of Jewish and female identity impact your trajectory in public service/ elected office? How does it impact your current work, if at all? Are there any trends you are seeing that impact these identities? 

A: It’s impossible to separate it out. There’s no way for me to understand my identity other than as Jewish and a woman. Every day I’m experiencing the intersectionality of those identities. My identity as a woman is something I think about actively day-to-day, operating in a word that is still male-dominated. In terms of my Jewish identity—it’s constantly trying to figure out how to align values with reality. 

Join us for Ballots and Bellinis on November 7 at Bet Shalom Congregation. For tickets and more information, click here.