Gay and Once Divorced, a Rabbi’s Experiences Help Her Broaden Judaism’s TentReader07/12/2019 (Fri) 16:28:59 Id: 640744No.15017del
MONTREAL — When Rabbi Lisa Grushcow, the first openly gay rabbi of a large synagogue in Canada, was preparing to begin rabbinical school, she faced a daunting choice: love or serving God.
Her world was suddenly turned upside down in the late 1990s while she was studying religion at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, and fell in love with a woman she met at a conference. This posed a problem: The Conservative rabbinical school she planned to attend did not ordain openly gay rabbis.
Rather than abandoning her vocation, she opted instead to join the Jewish Reform movement — a liberal progressive denomination that accepts gay rabbis and gay marriage. “Coming out,” she added, “brought me closer to God.”
“It was the first time in my life when being good at something and working hard weren’t enough to open the door,” said the bookish 44-year-old rabbi, who speaks with the soothing voice of someone used to softening life’s upheavals. “By following my calling and being true to myself, I was embracing both essential parts of my identity.”
Now divorced, and remarried with two daughters and a third child on the way, she said her struggles had helped shape her inclusive approach to Judaism during posts in Manhattan and in her current role as the first female senior rabbi at the 137-year-old Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, a sprawling Reform synagogue in Montreal’s affluent Westmount neighborhood.
Named one of “America’s most inspiring rabbis” by the influential Jewish publication The Forward, she has edited a seminal book on Judaism and sexuality, works to improve ties between Canadian Jews and Muslims; and counsels lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews from Newfoundland to Mexico.
And while Judaism has a long history of trailblazers in gay and gender equality — the first female rabbi, Regina Jonas, was ordained in Berlin in 1935, and the Reform movement formally endorsed the ordination of gay clergy in 1990 — Rabbi Grushcow is playing a leading role in breaking what she calls the “stained glass ceiling” in Canada, where senior female rabbis remain rare.
She observed that, in a historically patriarchal religion, “people expect their rabbi to be a stand-in for God, who they think looks like a guy with a beard sitting on a cloud — I don’t look like that.
“Being a divorced and lesbian rabbi and mom deepened my understanding of human experience,” she added. “It broadened who I can relate to.”