Lynn Greenhough still remembers her difficulties learning Hebrew during her conversion to Judaism.
“I learned Hebrew at 39 and 40,” she said. “That wasn’t easy. There [were] lots of tears and I have spent time on the floor.”
But she prevailed in her new faith, and now finds herself as the new religious leader of the Kolot Mayim Reform Temple on Shelbourne Avenue, a position she assumed on July 1.
She tells this story to illustrate the larger point that life is a continuous process of learning and growing, a perspective that she plans to bring to her position, which will last for 10 months.
Greenhough, for the record, is not a rabbi, although she is currently studying to become one. This said, her presence at the head of the small congregation offers a measure of spiritual care and comfort previously not necessarily available all the time.
In the past, the congregation had to bring in rabbis-in-training for various kinds of services, such as Jewish holy days or birth-through-death events. This approach was not always satisfactory, because it often left congregation members with uncertainty. Life cycle events also rarely follow a predictable schedule.
Greenhough’s presence promises to ease some of these uncertainties, especially as Jews around the world including Greater Victoria get ready for the two most important religious holidays, starting with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It starts on sunset Sept. 9 and ends on nightfall Sept. 11. Seven days later, Jews will mark Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement, the holiest of Jewish holidays. It starts on sunset Sept. 18 and ends with nightfall on Sept. 19. (See more here for specific service times).
While Greenhough will lead most of the religious services at Kolot Mayim, her role is more expansive in helping to strengthen Jewish life in the region.
It includes the creation of programming for individuals, who want to learn more about Judaism or convert as part of a larger agenda to create more opportunities for Jews to be with each other.
“So we are always looking for new ways to do that,” she said. “So my role is basically to be a teacher, a guide, that person that people can come to.”
While Greenhough stresses that she is not a therapist, she plans to listen as closely as she can to the personal concerns of the congregation. “Sometimes, more often than not, people just need an ear, and they need Jewish ears,” she said.
According to the 2016 Census, 1,675 Jews live in the Greater Victoria region, with almost two-thirds living in Victoria (595) and Saanich (510). But Greenhough suggests that these figures are likely too low, and the real question is not whether Jews represent a sizable community, but whether the existing members of the community can be brought together.
“How do we bring young people in, how do we bring unaffiliated people in?” she said. “One of the big struggles that many Jewish congregations are facing is what do we do with inter-faith families. The inter-faith marriage is now well over 50 per cent. So how do we honour these non-Jewish partners, who may or may not be helping raise Jewish children?”
Greenhough hopes to help answer questions by drawing on her formal training, as well as her local roots.
Greenhough was born and raised in Victoria, and can look back on almost 30 years of involvement in the local Jewish community.
“That immediately breaks down a possible wall,” she said.