Courtesy of Hayley Goldstein

Students partake in havdallah, the traditional ritual that marks the end of Shabbat.

November 10, 2019

First Queer Female Rabbi on Campus Hayley Goldstein Creates Community Through Weekly Dinners

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You can find Rabbi Hayley Goldstein at her home on Friday nights, having Shabbat dinner and discussing the week’s Torah portion with a small group of students. As the first queer female Rabbi at Cornell Hillel, Goldstein’s philosophy of inclusion goes beyond acceptance.

“For me, it’s a given that we [LGBTQ people] belong in every space, and especially Jewish spaces. What I’m striving for is a world in which our goal is celebrating ourselves and each other,” said Goldstein.

Goldstein runs Base Ithaca, a project of Cornell Hillel and an extension of the country wide Base community, out of her house in Collegetown. She describes Base as a movement to promote “home-based, pluralistic, inclusive Judaism.”

Offering Shabbat dinners every Friday and Tacos and Torah nights on Wednesdays, Goldstein and her partner Lizzie Sivitz aim to offer “a small enough space where they [students] can meet other people and really talk to them.”

“It [Base Ithaca] reminds you of being at home, celebrating the holidays with your family, eating food with your cousins, learning something new from your parents … [it] feels a bit like a home away from home,” said Jillian Shapiro ’20, president of Cornell Hillel.

Goldstein also strives for accessibility and inclusion in her home, “meeting people where they are figuratively and literally” in the sense that she welcomes people of all levels of spirituality and in the sense that her house is located in Collegetown, which is accessible to many students.

“As someone that didn’t have a lot of Jewish experiences growing up … Base just really feels like a place to learn and grow as a person and to embrace Judaism in its social aspects and learning aspects,” said Nicole Cunningham ’20. She added that she was also “grateful to have a place right down the road.”

Goldstein has also run services for Cornell Hillel, including Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. She said she often incorporates music into her services because “even if you don’t know the Hebrew or if it’s intimidating in any way, you can [still] connect to the music.”

Shapiro, who has been to a variety of Goldstein’s services, said that they deeply diverge from “what is normally done, but that made it all the more special, meaningful and impactful.”

Speaking on her time at Cornell so far, Goldstein said she has felt welcomed by her colleagues at Cornell Hillel which include straight, male and Orthodox people.

“Cornell Hillel, really gives a model of what pluralism could look like even just in that  … we work together and we share Shabbat meals together,” Goldstein said. “So that’s been really special, to be completely embraced by the community.”