RABBI DENISE L. EGER has a long list of firsts in her 27 years of service.
Eger was the first female and openly gay president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis. She was the founding president of the Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual Interfaith Clergy Association. She officiated at the first legal wedding in California for a lesbian couple.
Another first will take place tomorrow morning at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel: Eger will be installed as the first openly gay president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinical arm of the Reform Judaism movement. The 126-year-old group is holding its annual conference at the Loews this week.
"Well, I'm incredibly humbled to have been selected," Eger said today in a phone interview. The conference and Eger knew this day would come since she was voted in as president-elect in 2013.
Eger, 55, who grew up in Memphis, Tenn., said she sees this moment not as a triumph for her alone, but for all those who have supported her and LGBT causes along the way.
"It's a wonderful tribute to all those LGBT colleagues and allies who worked so hard to channel hearts and minds and to work for equality and to cast the widest open tent for Judaism," she said.
Her installation also comes as the organization celebrates the 25th anniversary of its resolution calling for ordination of gay rabbis. And this year the board of trustees unanimously passed a resolution calling for the inclusion of transgender rabbis and gender expression, Eger said.
The resolution will mean no discrimination in hiring and will provide education for the lay community, she said.
"This is a full arc of working very hard for religious rites and civil rights," Eger said.
Eger is the founding rabbi of her current synagogue, Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, Calif.
Conference speakers and topics set for this week reflect the social justice and social change for which the Reform movement has always advocated, she said.
The Rev. William Barber II, a civil-rights leader from North Carolina, will speak on human rights. Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich will speak on the wage gap.
"It's in the fabric of our DNA," Eger said.