Rabbi Emily Lipof grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts. As a young girl, she wanted to be a Nun! There was, however, one big problem with that. She came from an observant Jewish family. If only you could have seen the look on her Orthodox grandfather’s face when she told him! For a young Emily, a Nun’s work was the only female role she knew, in organized religion. Laughingly she says, “I knew I was Jewish. I just didn’t know that Nuns weren’t.”
At that time, there were no female Rabbis anywhere and, although she never forgot her first goal, Emily’s life became full to overflowing with a young marriage to her high school sweetheart, the birth of four children in five years and seven years later, the arrival of her fifth. During that time, she became an educator, an activist and, later, a trailblazer.
As an educator, she founded several new schools. Emily taught, supervised and was founder of a nursery school and principal of a high school. She lectured at Dartmouth College and Boston College. Early on, she discovered that one story, told well, was worth a million words. If the story characters and situations resembled those of the listeners, they were the best teachers of all.
Emily’s activism prodded her to try to right some of the wrongs in the world. She was a member of gubernatorial and mayoral commissions including the council on Black/Jewish relations and urban concerns. She managed winning campaigns for political candidates, and was a Trustee of the University of Massachusetts. She has received countless awards for her work and, with every speech, she used a story to define her message.
At the age of 41, Emily’s trailblazing began. Now, a woman could study to be ordained, Rabbi. With no seminary in Massachusetts, she found The Academy For Jewish Religion in New York. They allowed her to commute to classes. This had never before been done. For five years, every week, she commuted to New York and back to Boston.
At 47, she was ordained. Her first pulpit was in Augusta, Maine but she was quickly called to the historic congregation, Ohabei Shalom in Brookline, Massachusetts. She was now the first woman to ever be Senior Rabbi of a major congregation.
Rabbi Lipof beams as she describes one of her most fulfilling accomplishments: “I organized a group wedding for 60 Russian couples who were denied a religious marriage in the former Soviet Union. For a year, I taught them about America and Judaism but they taught much more to all those who attended their wedding festivities. As they danced, children on the shoulder’s of their grandparents, they were celebrating freedom – freedom to safely reveal their religion and themselves … something we too often take for granted.”
After 20 years of leading and growing her congregation, Emily is now Rabbi Emerita and remains involved in the synagogue. She focuses much of her time, on writing books. Her 5 children and 10 grandchildren are never far from her, especially during the summer months. With a twinkle in her eye, she says,” I spend my summers at Camp Micah, in Maine, where I counsel, bake special cookies for the children, write and tell stories and stories and more stories.