Rabbi Lisa 
When I arrived in Montreal five years ago, it seemed like I had it made: happily married with two daughters, and the head rabbi at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, a well-established congregation.  But I was tested yet again.

Something happened to me I didn't expect: I fell in love with a woman. My world was suddenly turned upside down in the late 1990s while I was studying religion at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, and fell in love with a woman I met at a conference. 

This posed a problem: the conservative rabbinical school I planned to attend did not ordain openly gay rabbis. 

At that point I needed to make a decision, because I'd been accepted into the seminary for a movement that wouldn't ordain me as an out lesbian. 

I had the choice of either trying to find a different way to the rabbinate, or just going and doing any other profession where nobody would give a flying fig what my sexuality was.

Rather than abandoning my vocation, I opted instead to join the Jewish Reform movement – a liberal progressive denomination that accepts gay rabbis and same-sex marriage.

It was the first time in my life when being good at something and working hard weren’t enough to open the door. By following my calling and being true to myself, I was embracing both essential parts of my identity.

My marriage fell apart. I became a divorced single mother and primary caregiver to my daughters, aged seven and 13. The end of my marriage was painful.  

At first, when I was officiating weddings and didn't have my own wedding ring on anymore, I felt very self-conscious of it. But not every marriage is a good marriage. The divorce has helped me to be more empathetic and open as a rabbi. 

When I decided to switch from the Conservative branch of Judaism that I was raised in to Reform Judaism, where lesbian rabbis are accepted and quite common. I was ordained as a rabbi there, and I married the woman I fell in love with. 

The experience strengthened my faith. I never felt distant from God. If anything, it  Cont'd at Right...
deepened my spirituality, the whole process of coming out.

Divorce had made me a better listener. I understand divorce differently than had I not gone through it. People can now come and talk to me and I understand certain things that maybe I didn't understand before.

I think it gave me more depth of understanding, compassion, and less judgment of others having to make this decision. Through the challenges I have flourished as a spiritual leader. 

My daughters keep me anchored. It is really great for humility. I can give a sermon in front of a hundred people, and people will be saying, 'Great sermon, rabbi. I never saw it this way before. You have changed my life.'

Then I go home to two people, and nobody listens to me. And that's that's a good thing. That's exactly as it should be. I am their Mom, not there rabbi at home. 

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 — I am playing a leading role in breaking what she calls the “stained glass ceiling” in Canada, where senior female rabbis remain rare.

I 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. It broadened who I can relate to.

Now divorced, and remarried with two daughters and a third child on the way, my struggles have helped shape my inclusive approach to Judaism during posts in Manhattan and in my 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.

You can contact  Rabbi Lisa Grushcow  at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom or on the Montreal Board of Rabbis Facebook Page

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