Ray (Rachel) Frank did not set out to be titled “Jewess in the Pulpit” or “Latter Day Deborah.” Frank’s famous career as a Jewish female preacher began in 1890, when, on a trip to write for a local California paper about the boom towns of the Northwest, she discovered that the Jewish community of Spokane Falls, Washington, had no High Holiday services scheduled due to community infighting. When a local offered to organize a service on condition that Frank would speak, she agreed. Her Rosh Hashana sermon, which focused on Jews as citizens and the need for unity, was so well received that she was asked to speak again the next day and on Yom Kippur, for which she received newspaper coverage.

Frank, who was born in San Francisco on April 10, 1861, began her career as an educator shortly after graduating Sacramento High School, when she took a teaching position in Ruby Hill, Nevada, a silver mining town where she also learned about living in a small Jewish community. In 1885, Frank moved to Oakland, California, to her family home. She took philosophy classes at University of California-Berkeley and offered lessons in literature and elocution. Most significantly, she began teaching at the Sabbath School of Oakland’s First Hebrew Congregation, where her lessons were so successful that adults began attending. Not long thereafter, she became the principal of the Sabbath School.

Frank was also a correspondent for several local newspapers, and she wrote letters to the editors of national Jewish publications about the state of American Jewry, which is how she was recognized when she ended up in Spokane Falls in 1890.

In the 1890s, Frank traveled throughout western North America speaking at Bnai Brith lodges, talking to synagogue groups and giving official sermons. In 1893, she delivered the opening and closing benedictions at the first Jewish Women’s Congress. While there was much speculation, Frank never had an interest in seeking ordination or taking the title of rabbi.

In 1898, worn out from her extensive travel schedule, Frank went to Europe to rest. There she met and married Simon Litman, with whom she returned to California in 1902. While he taught at the University of California, Ray Frank chose a quiet life and accepted few speaking engagements. In 1908, Litman accepted a position at the University of Illinois at Champaign. Once settled, Frank began working in the local Jewish community and studying Jewish topics with students. She and her husband were involved in the organization of the first Hillel Foundation in 1923.

Ray Frank Litman passed away on October 10, 1948. Her brief speaking career has been an inspiration for many Jewish women.

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