Rabbi Michele Lenke was ordained in 1996 and has worked primarily with B'nai Mitzvot, helping the next generation of Jewish youth. She grew up in the Los Angeles area, where she was very involved in her synagogue, studying Torah and attending services more than participating in more "typical" Jewish youth activities. Michele went to Israel on a NFTY program when she was sixteen years old, which was very transformative for her. During her youth in the synagogue, Michele got to know her rabbis very well, inspiring her to go into the same line of work. She attended rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College, going to three of the four campuses (all except Cincinnati). Michele also earned her doctorate in Pastoral Counseling. At the time of the interview, she worked at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, Massachusetts, but has since moved back to California. Rabbi Lenke is a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Women's Rabbinic Network, the Southern California Board of Rabbis, the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, and The Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din, among others. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she served as a chaplain to help her community.
Ronda Spivak interviewed Rabbi Michele Lenke for the Women Rabbis project on April 1st, 2014. She begins by talking about her current work as a rabbi, her congregation being a place of laughter for many, and her focus on helping young Jews with their B'nai Mitzvot. Michele also discusses her Jewish upbringing, specifically her relationship with her childhood congregation's rabbis and a transformative NFTY trip to Israel. Rabbi Lenke describes her experience as a student at Hebrew Union College and some obstacles she faced once she was ordained. It wasn't easy to establish herself and be taken seriously as a female rabbi. Michele oversees many conversions, explaining that she is honored to be a part of such an essential journey for someone, and she enjoys seeing how passionate people are about learning during the conversion process. Finally, Rabbi Michele has found enormous pride in marrying queer couples and being fully herself in her rabbinate.
How to cite this page
Oral History of Michele Lenke. Interviewed by Ronda Spinak. 1 April 2014. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 29, 2023) <https://jwa.org/oralhistories/lenke-michele>.
Oral History of Michele Lenke by the Jewish Women's Archive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://jwa.org/contact/OralHistory.