Even as a baby, Rachel (pronounced the Hebrew way: Rah-KHEL) Kahn-Troster was being groomed to be an activist and a rabbi wannabe.
At 10 months old, she posed for the cameras in a T-shirt that said “JTS Class of 2001” — this was back in 1980, five years before the Jewish Theological Seminary ordained its first woman rabbi (and while Kahn-Troster’s father was a rabbinical student).
In 2008, just a few years behind the original schedule, Kahn-Troster was ordained at JTS. This time her daughter, Leora, who is now 3, wore the T-shirt.
Kahn-Troster, whose career goal is nothing short of “saving the world and teaching Jews,” is the lead organizer for Rabbis for Human Rights North America’s campaigns against slavery/human trafficking and U.S.-sponsored torture. Since January, she has also served as the organization’s interim co-executive director.
The battle against state-sanctioned torture of suspected terrorists has been an uphill one in post 9/11 America, especially, she says, because of the influence of TV shows like “24,” in which torture always appears to work, on public opinion.
Kahn-Troster has dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship, because her parents are Canadian, but she and her identical twin sister, who is now married to a rabbi, were born in New York. Learning about and campaigning to end torture has actually strengthened her American identity, she said.
“I feel like my work is very patriotic,” she said, adding that through her activism she hopes to see the U.S. better adhere to its ideals.
Kahn-Troster has also worked for the American Jewish World Service and is on the board of the Jewish environmental group Hazon.
While as a baby she enjoyed a front-row view of the women’s ordination debate at JTS, as a rabbinical student Kahn-Troster participated in another successful ordination campaign: the seminary’s decision to ordain openly gay rabbis. Kahn-Troster was a rabbinical intern at the gay synagogue Congregation Beth Simchat Torah the year JTS adopted the new policy and got to see firsthand the impact the decision had on its members, many of whom grew up in the Conservative movement. “It was very exciting to fight for something and see it actually happen,” she said.
At shul, one of many rabbis: In Teaneck, N.J., where Kahn-Troster lives with her physician husband and their two small daughters, she is one of 30 non-pulpit rabbis who worship regularly at Congregation Beth Sholom, a Conservative synagogue.