Shalom Life | October 12, 2014

Meet Israel's First Conservative Gay Rabbi

British Rabbi Mikie Goldstein will lead Congregation Adat Shalom Emanuel in Rehovot

By: Daniel Koren

Published: September 8th, 2014 in News » Israel

Meet Israel's First Conservative Gay Rabbi

Two years ago, Israel's Masorti (traditional or conservative) movement passed a new law that would allow the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis. It was a monumental achievement for Israel's LGBT community, and opened the doors to Israel's gay and lesbian rabbis who wanted to join the conservative movement.

Now, Rabbi Mikie Goldstein, born in Liverpool and ordained in New York, has taken the pulpit as the country's first homosexual Masorti rabbi, reports the Times of Israel.

Goldstein has been a resident of Israel since 1989, and was inaugurated Thursday evening as the leader of Adat Shalom Emanuel in Rehovot.

It is the only non-Orthodox synagogue in the city.

The young rabbi came out at the age of 24, after already making aliyah. While he worked in diplomacy and development for several years, he eventually decided to attend rabbinical school, in order to "loosen" the stranglehold the ultra religious community has over Israeli Judaism.

“My motto is to give Judaism back to the people,” said the now 49-year-old Goldstein. “I feel that the Orthodox establishment in this country has hijacked Judaism and decided there is only one way to be Jewish… I realized that if someone is going to make a stand, it’s going to be me. So I got off my behind, and I went to study.”

In 2010, Goldstein was ineligible for admittance to the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, the institution which trains Israeli rabbis for the Masorti movement. Instead, he went to New York and received his rabbinical ordination, as well as an MA in Talmud and Halacha from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

The New York seminary has been ordaining openly gay and lesbian students of the Conservative Jewish movement for the last seven years.

As reported by the Times of Israel, Goldstein's decision to lead the congregation and become an ambassador for the Masorti movement has nothing to do with his sexuality, but of the average Israeli's blase mentality when it comes to Judaism.

“I’m not interested in the ultra-Orthodox, who don’t think our way of Judaism is the right way anyway,” he said. “I’m interested in the millions of Israelis who are turned off completely from Judaism. I want to make sure they at least have the chance to feel at home inside a synagogue, be it in the shul or in the library. I don’t want people to feel threatened to cross that threshold, and right now many people do.”

When asked if he felt his appointment would draw more LGBT members to the Masorti movement, he noted that it's been pro-LGBT since they changed their status that fateful day in 2012.

“Any LGBT person who goes to a Masorti synagogue will be accepted, and we have plenty of LGBT members at Masorti congregations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem already,” he said. “I’m interested in the religious spirituality of anyone who walks through my front door. It doesn’t matter what their affiliation is. They’re welcome.”

Adat Shalom Emanuel is currently home to 150 families in Rehovot, including both English and Hebrew speakers.

Goldstein is currently married to his partner of twenty years, Isa Yanouka, a veteran diplomat who serves as Israel's ambassador to the Ivory Coast.

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