Lynn Greenhough sits in her home office where the walls are lined with books such as The Jewish Annotated New Testament, A History of God, and The Modern Jewish Canon. She sits in a plush chair, backed by a stand where she can read important passages. Greenhough has been scholarly all her life, but now carries a new title to her name: rabbi.
At 68 years of age, Greenhough acknowledges that she made the change later in life, though she’s had a calling to Judaism since she was 12 years old.
Greenhough grew up in a Christian household in Vancouver Island’s Happy Valley; her grandfather was a minister in the Anglican Church and she attended a small rural school as a child where there was no surrounding Jewish community. One day in fifth grade, however, sitting on the small school library shelf she found a book titled The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer.
“For some reason that book was there and I picked it up and couldn’t put it down,” Greenhough says. “I just had this overwhelming feeling that Christianity hadn’t lived up to its message, and that there was an incredible sense of betrayal of Jews in Europe. I need to be part of whatever redress I could bring, I needed to be finding an element of justice.”
It would be more than 25 years until Greenhough converted to Judaism, a choice she made with her husband.
Together they attended Schul at the Congregation Emanu-El, studied Hebrew and became increasingly involved in Victoria’s Jewish community. Things got more intense for Greenhough when she got involved with the Victoria and Vancouver Island Jewish Burial Society.
“That was a real turning point for me in terms of commitment and learning,” she says.
Greenhough began taking on more leadership roles in the congregation, conducting services and teaching kids lessons.
While the idea to become a rabbi sat in the back of her mind, it didn’t seem like a reality.
“I thought ‘okay, maybe in my next life,’” she says.
While most branches of Jewish practice allow women to become rabbis, the role itself would be difficult to take on in her life and also required a costly tuition.
Soon after, Greenhough and her husband began attending the Kolot Mayim Reform Temple where she continued to take on a leadership role, leading marriage and funeral services amongst many other roles.
After years of service, the stars aligned and Greenhough felt ready to take the next steps to achieve ordination. She signed up for Rabbinical training through an online school, the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute. The school required that Greenhough be well versed in Hebrew, have experience in conducting services, that she’d be comfortable with the LGBTQ+ community and that she’d be comfortable with inter-faith families.
The year-long course was what Greenhough calls, tongue-in-cheek, a “Jewish finishing school,” combining all of her experience with a few more skills.
“People always ask me ‘how long was the program?’ and I say, well I’ve been practicing for this for the past 20 years,” she says. “I think if you did not have that experience it would be well over your head.”
Becoming a rabbi has filled Greenhough with energy and excitement, something that could be seen by her mother shortly before she passed away.
“About every seven years or so, she’d say ‘why did you convert?’ and she couldn’t quite make peace with it,” Greenhough says. “Not long before she died she started calling me Rabbi Lynn… it means a lot to me, especially now that she’s gone that she could not only acknowledge that this is who I was, but she said ‘this is who you are meant to be’ so that was a real gift.”
Becoming an ordained rabbi has given Greenhough a lot off firsts: she’s the first rabbi on the Island born on the Island, and the first rabbi in Victoria who is Canadian. While not the first female rabbi, she’s currently one of the very few in the area to work for a congregation.
Being a female leader is something she believes comes with some privileges.
“I think there’s some things I can do in terms of listening and being present; I think people can lean in a little more,” she says.
There are other aspects of the new role that she’ll have to continue to navigate, however, joking that she’s not sure how she’ll go forward conducting Shabbat dinners with family and friends.
“How do I still be the cook and organize everything and be the rabbi?” she says. “I’m still figuring that one out.”
Greenhough says her goal at Kolot Mayim is to make services more accessible and more interactive with the community – no three-hour Hebrew sermons.
“My goal over these couple of years is to really encourage people to amp up their learning ,” she says. “We’ll be providing classes for people to engage in, and I try to get people to engage in services as much as possible. “
Greenhough will be installed at Kolot Mayim on Friday, Sept. 6. There will be an official event at the 3636 Shelbourne St. location beginning at 7 p.m., as well as a Sunday afternoon tea service from 2 to 4:30 p.m.
“I feel unbelievably honoured for the recognition that people are giving me,” she says.
Regular services continue at Kolot Mayim every week, alternating between Friday and Saturday.
For more information visit kolotmayimreformtemple.com
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