Woman Kipen, Aviva (c. 1950 - )

Centenary Medalist

c. 1950
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Aviva Kipen was born in Melbourne in the mid 1950s Although, as a teenager, she felt that she did not fit in at school she was 'electrified' by the sermons of Rabbi Lubofski at the St Kilda Synagogue, where she sang in the choir. 'Had she been a man', Kipen says 'she would have attended rabbinical school by the time she was 25, but there simply weren't any women rabbis at that time. So instead, she became a primary school teacher, married had a daughter and moved overseas' (Eureka street website). It was during her seventeen years away that she met some American female rabbis, an encounter which encouraged her to seek rabbinical training in London. She was ordained into the Progressive stream of Judaism in London in 1991, the first Australian women to achieve this feat.

After appointments in Britain and New Zealand, in 1996 Kipen returned to Australia where she joined the rabbinic team at St Kilda's Temple Beth Israel, the congregation which had welcomed Australia's first female rabbi, the American Karen Soria in 1981. Three years later she was appointed by the Department of Premier and Cabinet to organise 'A Sense of Place', a celebration of the place of faith in Victoria over the first century of Federation. Staged in the Exhibition Building the event brought together representatives of the Aboriginal, Jewish, Islam, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist communities, affirming for Kipen the marked contrast between the Victoria she had left as a young woman and the multicultural environment to which she had returned. In recognition of her work for the festival she was awarded a Centenary Medal in 2001.

In 2001 Kipen was invited to become the rabbi at the Bentleigh Progressive Synagogue following in the footsteps of Rabbi Linda Joseph, who, in 1995, had become the first woman to take responsibility for a congregation in Australia. She found the transition to full ministry relatively simple. 'I had a whole lot of life experiences that made me a much more approachable person than a stereotypically male, bearded rabbi fresh from rabbinical school. So, in fact, I did not find much resistance because of my gender'(Eureka street website).

Kipen resigned from the Bentleigh congregation in 2008. In 2013 she was working as a counsellor and was in demand as a speaker, particularly at interfaith events.

Additional sources: The Shtick S26-10 Seg.1 - Aviva Kipen, Director of Jewish Film Festival: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXRv9rRM6bQ [accessed 12 May 2013].

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