Rabbi Elyse Goldstein was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania and educated at Brandeis University (B.A. summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1978) and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (M.H.L. followed by ordination in 1983). As a student, she served at Beth Or, a synagogue for the deaf in the New York City area, and she remains committed to Jewish education for the deaf. Her first rabbinic positions were as assistant rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto and rabbi of Temple Beth David in Canton, Massachusetts. She is one of many Canadian Jewish professionals born and/or trained in the United States. In the somewhat more conservative Canadian Jewish community, where synagogue egalitarianism has developed much more slowly than in the United States, she has been a path breaker.
Since 1991, Goldstein has headed Kolel: The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning in Toronto, an institute in the tradition of the inter-war Lehrhaus in Germany, offering Jewish studies to adults in classes, lectures, retreats, and in-depth seminars. It is the first such institution under liberal Jewish auspices in Canada and one of only a handful in North America. Housed in its own building and serving an increasing number of singles and unaffiliated Jews as well as established members of the community, Kolel has become a significant and singular presence on the Jewish educational scene of Toronto.
In addition to her work at Kolel, Rabbi Goldstein lectures on campuses and to Jewish and Christian groups across North America and in Great Britain and appears frequently on radio and television. She has published two books, ReVisions: Seeing Torah Through a Feminist Lens (Toronto and Woodstock, VT, 1998), which won the Canadian Jewish Book Award in the field of Bible, and The Women’s Torah Commentary (Woodstock, VT, 2000), an anthology with contributions by fifty-four women rabbis. Her articles have appeared in Sh’ma, Lilith, Grail, The Journal of Canadian Women’s Studies, The Journal of Reform Judaism and other periodicals. Goldstein serves on the Canadian national board of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger and on the Editorial Advisory Board of the Canadian Jewish News. She is the first woman to be elected president of the interdenominational Toronto Board of Rabbis and the past chair of the Reform Rabbis of Greater Toronto. In 1996, the YWCA of Metropolitan Toronto presented her with the Woman of Distinction Award for excellence in the field of education.
Goldstein’s parents, Abraham (1918–1997) and Terry (Gallant, b. 1922), were natives of the Bronx. Her father was a purchasing agent and her mother the director of a youth organization. Goldstein had one sister, Marsha (1950-1995). In 1983, she married Baruch Browns-Sienna (b. 1956), a Jewish educator and computer software producer, and they have three sons: Noam Ezra (b. 1989), Carmi Shalom (b. 1991), and Micah Benjamin (b. 1994).