British-born Mikie Goldstein this week became the Israeli Conservative movement’s first openly gay congregational rabbi with his installation as spiritual leader of its synagogue in Rehovot.
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Goldstein completed his studies for the rabbinate just a few months ago, at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He has been married for the past 20 years to Isi Yanouka, a veteran diplomat who serves today as Israel’s ambassador to the Ivory Coast.
“From my point of view, gender identity is not an issue,” Goldstein said. “What was important for our congregation was a rabbi who could teach and do outreach, and I believe that’s why they chose me. Being gay wasn’t an issue.”
The ordination of homosexual rabbis has long been a divisive issue among Conservative Jews, and it was only two years ago that the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Israel, which is affiliated with the movement, began admitting gay and lesbian students.
The Reform movement, by contrast, has been far more open to the idea of gay rabbis in its congregations.
Congregation Adat Shalom-Emanuel, where Goldstein will serve as rabbi, is one of the oldest Conservative congregations in Israel. Established in 1970 by immigrants from North America, it advertises itself as the only non-Orthodox synagogue between Nes Tziona and Ashdod. The 160 families that are members of the congregation include native Israelis as well as immigrants from the United States, Canada, South America, England, Russia, Australia and France.
Before leaving for his studies in the United States, Goldstein lived in Rehovot, where he was an active member of Adat-Shalom Emanuel.
Born in Liverpool, where he belonged to the national-religious Bnei Akiva youth movement, Goldstein moved to Israel in 1989. As a trail-along spouse, he has filled various diplomatic functions overseas.
He has also served as head of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, an organization that advocates on behalf of the LGBT community in the capital. In addition, Goldstein has held the position of resource director at the Conservative movement in Israel, also known as the Masorti movement. He interned last year at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York – the largest gay synagogue in the world – as part of his studies for the rabbinate.
Commenting on Goldstein’s installation, Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative Movement in Israel, said, “Mikie and the rabbinate were meant for each other, and he will be a remarkable pulpit rabbi.”