Elaine Zecher, Talk of the Temple

The city’s most prominent rabbi on breaking the stained-glass ceiling, her love of James Taylor, and what it means to be Jewish in Boston today.

Illustration source courtesy of Elaine Zecher

When I came to Temple Israel in 1990 as the first female rabbi, it felt like people were wondering what took me so long. Many of the women of this congregation had been very active in the feminist movement in the ’60s and ’70s. So 1990 was a long time from then, and women had come so far. The glass ceiling was broken. But what about the stained-glass ceiling?

I always loved being Jewish, and I just assumed I would work in the Jewish community in some way. But it was in college, at Brandeis, that a mentor told me that I should be a rabbi. And that’s what happened. I went straight from college into rabbinical school.

I always say that every workday has four shifts: The morning, the afternoon, the evening, and 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

We responded to the events in Charlottesville earlier this year by working with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization to coordinate a service, and 1,700 people showed up at Temple Israel, while more than 4,500 people watched it live online. Mayor Marty Walsh, Governor Charlie Baker, and Attorney General Maura Healey were there, and more than 100 members of clergy were in attendance.


Age: 56
Born in: Monroeville, Pennsylvania
Ground­breaking accomplishment: First female senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston

Boston has always had a religious thread running through it. But over the past 20 years or so we have seen the presence of a diverse faith community emerge. I believe that we are much more powerful and much more spiritual when we are engaging in all sorts of work together—and that is why I believe Boston is in a vibrant and exciting moment in its history.

The most important lesson my mother ever taught me is, “Do well, work hard.”

If I could change one thing about Boston, I would make it impossible for anyone to turn right from the left-hand lane.

One person who is influencing the future of Boston is Tina Chéry, founder of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, which organizes the annual Mother’s Day Walk for Peace. She brought urban and suburban communities together, turning the darkness of losing a child to violence into an event full of light and hope.

My go-to restaurant is Masona Grill in West Roxbury. It’s always a great meal, but I’m partial to the eggplant Romana.

To unplug and destress, I run. I love to exercise outside without music or headphones. I prefer listening to the sounds of the world.

When I do listen to music, I am a James Taylor devotee. I’m loyal to his music and finally got to see him perform this summer at Fenway Park.

One piece of advice I always come back to is from Eleanor Roosevelt, who said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.