World’s First Black Female Rabbi Steps down from Position

Congregation Bayt Shalom, a Reform and Conservative-affiliated synagogue in Greenville, SC known for its appointment of the first black female rabbi in 2009; announced that their spiritual leader would no longer continue in her current capacity.

The congregation’s leader, Rabbi Alysa Stanton, 47, was the focus of intense media attention upon her graduation from Cincinnati’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2009 and subsequent acceptance of the position of Rabbi in Greenville. Media outlets at that point in time touted Stanton as proof that the South had moved beyond its racist past.

Stanton was born to a Pentecostal family in a Jewish suburb of Cleveland. She began a spiritual odyssey at the tender age of 9, trying different Christian denominations and dabbling in the Eastern Religions. Her family moved to Colorado when she was 11. There, Stanton continued her spiritual journey while earning an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s of education in counseling and multiculturalism from Colorado State University. She converted to Judaism in 1987 and acquainted herself with her newfound faith by serving as a chaplain, cantor and Sunday school teacher. Later, she returned to Ohio to attend seminary. Upon arrival in Greenville, she was bombarded with requests to speak at area churches, synagogues and universities as well as at the White House in honor of the first Jewish-American reception held during the Obama administration.

However, after a year and a half of service, the synagogue announced that it would search for a new rabbi. The president of the board, Samantha Pilot, declined to discuss details after much deliberation, but said that Rabbi Stanton “wasn’t a good fit for the congregation.” The decision was made in October 2009, but only publicized this month.

Stanton said she was “humbled and blessed” to have served the congregation and wants to remain in North Carolina. A written statement said: “Greenville is my home. At this point and time in my life, my desire is to remain here as long as I can to serve the community as a spiritual leader.” Stanton, whose skills include community outreach and interfaith relations, may work in that capacity or as a licensed psychotherapist.

Pilot said, “Rabbi Stanton brought a lot of gifts. I wish her well as she continues her journey.”