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After activism, female rabbi is first in Navy

Daniella Kolodny spends most of her time following orders from her superiors at the U.S. Naval Academy. But 20 years ago, she had an attitude that made her one of the most passionate activists at Boston University.

Kolodny, 41, is the first female rabbi to be enlisted in the Naval Academy. When she was a BU student heavily involved with the Hillel House, she helped organize an 11-bus trip to Washington, D.C. to protest the confinement of Jews in the Soviet Union.

A 1989 College of Arts and Sciences graduate, Kolodny was dubbed the “queen” of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry organization.

“She fought and worked tirelessly to protest the incarceration of Soviet Jews,” said Hillel Director Rabbi Joseph Polak. “We wanted to allow the free emigration from Russia for whatever Jews wanted to.”

The organized Soviet Jewry movement arose in response to the Soviet Union’s attempts to destroy the Russian-Jewish community in the 1960s and 1970s. The Soviet government closed down synagogues and began publishing anti-Semitic books.

Kolodny and other members of the support group went to Washington, D.C. to demand Jews in Russia be allowed to leave on their own desire.

“You could see in her fiery eyes, her seriousness about it. It was infectious,” Polak said.

Throughout her involvement with Hillel, Kolodny maintained her passionate drive, especially to establish equality of women in the synagogue, Polak said.

“I learn from her that even if you are not the most organized person, but if you have charisma, you can be a leader,” he said. “I could talk to her about ideas, which you can’t to every student here.”

Polak said he was not surprised when Kolodny decided to become a rabbi.

“[Hillel] kept up with her over the years and made sure to be there for her ordination,” he said.

Although Kolodny is the first active-duty female rabbi in the Academy, she said her reason for enlisting had nothing to do with being the first. Kolodny said there were several reasons she enlisted, but mostly she “was about to be ordained and we were at war.”

As a rabbi, Kolodny said she enjoys helping the military within three main areas of work: providing for people of her own faith, helping other faiths with their own needs and offering counseling or one-on-one sessions with students.

Academy Reverend Peter McGeory said Kolodny has the “ability to relate to people of all faiths” and is a “terrific asset” to the Academy team.

“She’s a great role model and a bit of a pioneer,” he said. “Yes, we need more rabbis – more rabbis like her.”

Kolodny said she credits Polak and Hillel for being major forces in her life and faith while at BU.

“[Polak] told me it was obvious that I was interested [in Judaism] but that I needed to learn more,” she said. “I needed a more intensive Jewish education.

“[Hillel] was a holy place – you made friends and met great people there,” she continued. “You meet people from all walks of life. That can really change your perspective.”

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