Regi­na Per­sist­ed: An Untold Story

Sandy Eisen­berg Sas­so; Margeaux Lucas, illus.

By – July 23, 2018

Based on a true sto­ry, this inspir­ing and beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten pic­ture book cen­ters around the lit­tle known life of Regi­na Jonas, the first woman to be ordained as a rab­bi. The title refers to the now-pop­u­lar fem­i­nist expres­sion, Nev­er­the­less, she per­sist­ed,” first used by Sen­a­tor Mitch McConnell to describe Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren. The expres­sion went viral, sym­bol­iz­ing women over­com­ing all kinds of barriers.

Sas­so fills the book with details of what life was like for Regi­na and oth­er Ger­man Jews of the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. Describ­ing Berlin, she writes: The streets were busy with bicy­cles, horse-drawn car­riages, and motor­cars. Ped­dlers called out their wares. The smells of fish, fresh lemon, and sweet spices filled the air.” Lucas’s bold yet dreamy illus­tra­tions reflect the text, as well as the hopes and ener­gy inte­gral to Regina’s personality.

The book ends with a note ask­ing read­ers to con­sid­er what it feels like to be the very first at some­thing, encour­ag­ing them to fol­low their dreams and per­sist despite obsta­cles. The after­word relates Regi­na’s untime­ly demise at the hands of the Nazis and puts her accom­plish­ment in the his­tor­i­cal con­text of oth­er pio­neer­ing women rab­bis, includ­ing Sas­so her­self, the first woman ordained by the Recon­struc­tion­ist Rab­bini­cal College.

Paula Chaiken has worked in a vari­ety of capac­i­ties in the Jew­ish world — teach­ing in reli­gious school, curat­ing at the Sper­tus Muse­um and fundrais­ing for the Fed­er­a­tion — for more than twen­ty years. She also runs a bou­tique pub­lic rela­tions con­sult­ing firm and enjoys read­ing all sorts of books with her three sons.

Discussion Questions

Rab­bi Sandy Eisen­berg Sas­so, the first woman to be ordained a rab­bi by the Recon­struc­tion­ist move­ment in the Unit­ed States, is the per­fect author for this inspir­ing pic­ture book biog­ra­phy about the very first woman rab­bi. Ordained in 1935 in Berlin, Regi­na Jonas remained large­ly unknown until the 1990s, when East Ger­man archives opened to researchers after the fall of the Berlin Wall. As Regi­na Per­sist­ed relates, Regi­na dreamed of becom­ing a rab­bi from an ear­ly age; one of the book’s many charm­ing peri­od illus­tra­tions por­trays a young Regi­na pre­tend­ing to read Torah to her stuffed ani­mals. Regi­na stud­ied hard with sym­pa­thet­ic rab­bis who rec­og­nized her tal­ent, and she pushed back against peo­ple who urged her to stick to tra­di­tion­al female pur­suits like cook­ing and sewing. Ini­tial­ly denied ordi­na­tion, Regi­na became a beloved teacher of Jew­ish stud­ies until, final­ly, the rab­binic author­i­ties per­mit­ted her to take the nec­es­sary exam for ordi­na­tion. At long last, Regi­na achieved her dream of becom­ing a rab­bi. A sad after­word notes that Rab­bi Jonas died in Auschwitz. This is an impor­tant sto­ry for young read­ers about a Jew­ish hero who deserves to be bet­ter known