Illustration by Ed Supovitz

Jewish Heroes and Heroines

of America:

Colonial Times to 1900


Rachel “Ray” Frank: “Girl Rabbi of the Golden West”

by Seymour “Sy” Brody

Rachel “Ray” Frank was the first Jewish woman in America to preach formally from a pulpit on Yom Kippur in 1890. She delivered sermons for the High Holy Days in Spokane, Washington.

She was dubbed the “ Girl Rabbi of the Golden West,” even though she never claimed to be a Rabbi.

Rachel “Ray “ Frank was the daughter of Leah and Bernard Frank and was born on April 10, 1861, in San Francisco. Her parents were Orthodox Jews, who were liberal in their views. Her father was a peddler and an Indian agent, who claimed to be a descendant from the eight century Jewish sage, Vilna Gaon.

She graduated Sacramento High School in 1879. She moved to Ruby Hill, Nevada, where she began to teach in public school. There were very few Jews living there. Her sister, Rosa, lived in nearby Eureka, where they had over 100 Jewish inhabitants.

She taught here for six years and then moved back to her family in Oakland, California. She took some courses in philosophy at the University of California-Berkeley and started teaching at the Sabbath School of Oakland’s First Hebrew Congregation.

When the Rabbi and the principal resigned, she was appointed as the new principal.

She became a correspondent for several newspapers in the San Francisco area. In 1900, she was sent to visit several booming towns in the Northwest area. In one of these towns, she was asked by the Jewish community to be their “lady preacher.”

She started delivering sermons to many Jewish congregations, groups and organizations on the Pacific Coast. She raised many questions about the women’s traditional role in the Jewish community and for the unity of the Orthodox and Reform groups. Rachel Frank was compared to the “Latter-day Deborah of the Bible.”

When the Jewish Women’s Congress was organized in 1893, in Chicago, Illinois, Rachel Frank was asked to be their spiritual leader. She delivered the opening and closing benedictions. She also spoke in favor of women’s emancipation.

Rachel Frank and Samuel Litman were married in 1901. He worked as a translator. Later, he took a position at the University of California and Berkeley in teaching marketing and merchandising.

Rachel “Ray” Frank Litman died on October 10, 1948. She left a legacy of bringing people together and creating an enthusiasm for Judaism. She will always be remembered as the “Girl Rabbi of the Golden West” and being the first Jewish woman to deliver a sermon from the pullpit.


A link for a curriculm guide for Rachel "Ray" Frank


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