After 25 Years, Rabbi Lisa Edwards Bids Farewell to Beth Chayim Chadashim


After a storied, inspiring quarter of a century helming Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), the world’s first LGBTQ synagogue, which opened its doors in 1972, Senior Rabbi Lisa Edwards officially will retire on June 30.

In a phone interview with the Journal, Edwards recalled the tiny lightbulb moment when the idea of becoming a rabbi first came to her. It was when her parents, together with a few other local families, helped found a small Reform synagogue — Congregation Solel in Highland Park, Ill., which still exists.

“During that time, I found out women weren’t allowed to be rabbis,” Edwards said. “That was my first rebellious response — to do what wasn’t allowed.”

Slowly, things changed. By the late 1970s, when women were getting more involved in clergy in North America, “I didn’t have to prove anything,” she said, chuckling. And so the light bulb dimmed for a while.

Edwards went to the University of Iowa to pursue a doctorate in English literature. While there, she worked as a teaching assistant, informally studied Jewish scripture with a small group of Jewish women, and wrote a dissertation on American-Jewish fiction and its incorporation of traditional Jewish texts.

“Iowa City was the first place I’d lived where Jews were really a minority,” Edwards said. “I had a sense there that I’d never had before. I didn’t really have to be Jewish there, but I was teaching students who’d never met a Jew. I felt a responsibility to not only teach Jewish writers to these non-Jewish students, but also to know something about it myself.”

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