Carla Fenves is an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program. Carla is a rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College-Institute of Religion in New York.  She can be reached at

This Passover I led a seder on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. While planning with the ship’s staff, the maitre d’ kept insisting that we use only paper plates and plastic utensils for the meal. Despite my repeated assurances that this would not be a concern for these particular Jewish passengers, he remained bizarrely adamant in his commitment to kashrut. Finally, the truth came out. He leaned over to me and whispered: “I heard that a rabbi is coming and I don’t want to offend him.”

This was far from the first time that someone, Jewish or non-Jewish, had made this error. As a 26 year-old woman who barely reaches 5 feet, I am mistaken for the bat mitzvah student more often than I am recognized as the rabbinic figure in the room. One of the biggest impediments to my ability to exercise leadership has been my reaction to moments like this. The mere whisper of a stranger has at times felt like an attack on my legitimacy as a future rabbi.

After four years of rabbinical school, however, I am finally starting to feel secure in the knowledge that being good at what I do is ultimately what matters most. I just turned to the man and smiled: “I am the rabbi and I am not offended.”