Ottawa·Human Library

The journey from classical singer to trailblazing rabbi

Originally from Montreal, Elizabeth Bolton had to move to Philadelphia to study at the only rabbinical college in North America to accept openly gay students. Now she's in Ottawa as the city’s first female congregational rabbi.

Elizabeth Bolton is a 'book' at this year's Human Library event on Feb. 27

Elizabeth Bolton explains her role as a rabbi in Ottawa


5 years ago
Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton wants to clear up any misconceptions about her role 0:49

For Elizabeth Bolton, the journey from classical singer to rabbi was long, challenging, and eye-opening.

"When I applied to rabbinical school in 1989, it was not at all certain that I would ever be able to work as a rabbi, not because I'm a woman, but because I'm a lesbian," she said.

"That didn't stop me. I knew that was my path, and that's what I needed to do. So certainly that label, if you will, cost me some work and cost me access in a certain sense to some opportunities. I went to rabbinical school to essentially become a better person, and to keep on learning."

Originally from Montreal, Bolton's first career was in the world of classical music, as a mezzo soprano performing opera and church and choral music. She had to move to Philadelphia to study at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the only one in North America to accept openly gay students.

She then served as a rabbi in Baltimore, before coming to Ottawa as the city's first female congregational rabbi. For her, it's a dream come true.

'I still kind of pinch myself'

"I still kind of pinch myself," she added "I had a feeling, an instinct, and an unquenchable thirst to learn and to stake my claim as a leader in the Jewish world, and to have such amazing colleagues and a great, broader reconstructionist community with whom to do my work in the world is really a privilege."

Bolton will discuss her faith and her role in the community at the annual Human Library, presented by CBC Ottawa and the Ottawa Public Library on Feb. 27.