Welcome to our fifth installment of “Queer Clergy in Action,” spotlighting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rabbis and cantors. This behind-the-scenes look at queer clergy covers both those who have paved the way and up-and-coming trailblazers. Here, we interview Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell.
Coming out can be really difficult and it can be especially risky for those who are, or aspire to be, clergy. Nonetheless, this vanguard has helped open up the Jewish world, and we’re very proud to shine an extra light on their work, their ideas, and their stories. You can also read the first four posts in this series, about Rabbi Steve Greenberg, Rabbi Reuben Zellman, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Rabbi Denise Eger, and Rabbi Elliot Kukla.
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell has worked as a rabbi for over three decades, serving congregations in California, New Jersey, and Virginia, and taught at a number of universities across the country. She was on the editorial board for The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, and was one of the editors of Lesbian Rabbis: The First Generation. She was the Director of the Los Angeles Jewish Feminist Center and has worked for the Union of Reform Judaism since 1996.
How has being LGBTQ informed your work as a rabbi?
I see my queer identity as a mirror and a reflection of my identity as an engaged, committed Jew and as a rabbi. For both LGBT folks and Jews are other, subversive, challenging, counter-cultural. This is a source of great strength and creativity. I hope that my work as a rabbi is a reflection of my continuing growth and learning to be present, compassionate and deliberate as I work for greater justice in each of the communities each of us inhabits.
What should we, as members of the LGBT Jewish community, be focusing on now?
Showing up and stepping up, taking leadership in the spheres we inhabit, sharing our wisdom and our truths as we continue to create and nurture structures and spaces that welcome all of us and support our continued growth.
Favorite queer Jewish figure?
Favorite queer Jews: Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, all the unnamed men and women who loved others like themselves and were rarely supported in sustaining those loves. I deeply admire Rabbi Jill Hammer‘s pioneering work and powerful vision, and am deeply indebted to the scholarship and longtime friendships of Rebecca Alpert and Yoel Kahn. I look forward to learning from many of the amazing folks who are pushing the boundaries now!
What’s next for you? A project, a sermon — what are you working on that’s queer and Jewish?
Exploring wise aging and the rich rewards of contemplative practice, reading, writing, and deepening connections, and sharing the joy of grandparenting with my wife, Nurit.