Rebecca Lesser Dubowe, Class of ’75
Some say Rebecca Lesser Dubowe, Class of ’75, has a superpower. Her former classmates from Akiba Academy, now Sinai Akiba, think so. As an expert lip- reader who is fluent in American Sign Language, Rebecca is an exceptional communicator, advisor, rabbi, and spiritual guide to congregations across the country as well as a proud alumna.
Born with moderately severe hearing loss and mainstreamed into a local public school, Rebecca learned to overcome challenges and achieve incredible things at an early age. When she reached third grade, her parents decided she would benefit from a small classroom and a school centered around Jewish values. That fall, she and her brother joined Lainer School, and she was soon impressing classmates by lip-reading conversations from across the classroom. Rebecca, one of 10 students in the School’s first graduating class, enjoyed the individual attention she received from faculty and staff.
“A unique aspect of [Lainer School] was this idea of Panim al Panim — that we are all equal and have our own strengths,” she says. “It was a sacred place and safe space to learn.”
Rebecca remembers beloved Judaic studies and Hebrew teacher Rivka Shaked as one of her most influential mentors. Having little knowledge of Hebrew in a Jewish school was her first challenge. Rivka, (as she was known to her students) “was so determined to make sure that I would succeed that within the year I went back to the on-level Hebrew class and rejoined my classmates,” Rebecca says. Chumash and prayer quickly became her favorite subjects.
Rebecca felt drawn to the rabbinate in her senior year of college at American Jewish University (AJU). “Freshman year felt like homecoming; many parents from the [Lainer School] community were leaders at AJU,” she says. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Jewish studies, she attended rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College’s Jewish Institute of Religion — and after serving in the rabbinate for 25 years, the institute awarded her an honorary doctor of divinity, in 2018.
“[Akiba’s] impact is how I value my Judaism and my Jewish identity,” she says. “I want to share the warmth and joy of positive Jewish experiences with my congregants.”
Now a seasoned and inspirational leader serving the Moses Montefiore Synagogue in Bloomington, Illinois, she is a passionate advocate for inclusion of children of all abilities in schools and synagogues. She described her advocacy for these children in a 2016 article for the Union for Reform Judaism: “Like their peers, they deserve to be a part of a holy and sacred community. This is the season to open those gates!” she wrote.
Although she is the world’s first deaf female rabbi, Rebecca says her most important title is that of mom to two beautiful girls, and she hopes to teach her daughters a message she learned at Akiba. “I don’t consider myself as having a disability; I believe we all have different abilities,” she says. “We were all created B’tzelem Elokim — in G-d’s image — and we are all unique.” Rebecca’s leadership for her community is yet another impressive superpower.
“A unique aspect of [Lainer School] was this idea of Panim al Panim — that we are all equal and have our own strengths. It was a sacred place and safe space to learn.”