“I hoped I could reach out to people.”
Rabbi Elianna Yolkut, 39, wanted to be a different kind of Jew than her family. “I was raised as an orthodox Jew, which people think of as strict, but religion never felt like an imposition. Occasionally I felt I was missing out – I couldn’t go out on Fridays because of the Sabbath – but I never questioned it. But by 23, it began to feel limiting; it didn’t address how I saw myself and believed the Torah should apply in our world. I wanted to be part of a faith that embraced change while honouring tradition, so I became a conservative Jew: a path that felt more authentic to the Torah I grew up with, one of kindness and compassion. It wreaked emotional havoc, and I lost friends.
“Around that time, I came out as a lesbian. I stayed closeted during my first job as a rabbi because there was a prohibition against gay and lesbian rabbis. That stricture has since been lifted, so I’ve seen firsthand how a synagogue can innovate and maintain tradition. It’s one of the reasons I decided to become a rabbi: I hoped I could help shape something different and to reach out to people who might feel placed on the margins – to help them feel accepted and loved.”