How syn­a­gogues can make trans­gen­der Jews feel wel­come

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM - BY RABBI LEAH JOR­DAN

IN THE past few months, trans­gen­der peo­ple have moved from the twi­light into the spot­light. Thanks to celebri­ties in­clud­ing Lav­erne Cox, Cait­lyn Jen­ner and Kel­lie Maloney, trans­gen­der peo­ple and is­sues have found their way into the main­stream­pres­sand­have­been­trendin­gonso­cial me­dia. Ama­zon TV se­ries Trans­par­ent has re­ceived mul­ti­ple awards for its por­trayal of a Jewish fam­ily man com­ing out as a woman named Maura Pf­ef­fer­man. For many years, the Jewish com­mu­nity was not some­where trans­gen­der peo­ple could find be­long­ing and reli­gious mean­ing. How­ever, that is now chang­ing, es­pe­cially within the Pro­gres­sive Jewish world.

Within the Lib­eral Jewish com­mu­nity, a grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple have openly iden­ti­fied as trans. Lib­eral Ju­daism has even launched the pi­o­neer­ing Lot­tery-funded oral his­tory project Twi­light Peo­ple, ex­plor­ing the in­ter­sec­tion of gen­der iden­tity and faith.

The move­ment, its rab­bis and com­mu­ni­ties are also work­ing hard on the prac­ti­cal life-cy­cle is­sues around be­ing trans­gen­der, in­clud­ing name changes and wed­ding cer­e­monies. When mar­riages have taken place, the only prac­ti­cal dif­fer­ence for the rabbi is find­ing out which gen­der the cou­ple iden­tify as. Once that is known, the mar­riage cer­e­mony is pre­pared like any other, with the lan­guage and prayers re­flect­ing whether the cou­ple are of the same or dif­fer­ent gen­ders.

Rabbi Mark Solomon, the as­so­ciate chair­man of Lib­eral Ju­daism’sBeitDin,said:“Theon­ly­oc­ca­sion­so­far­when­trans­gen­deris­sue­shavearisen­with­theBeitDinit­self is­re­gard­ing a change of name on a sta­tus cer­tifi­cate, and the Beit Din was very happy to re­spond pos­i­tively to the re­quest. As a Lib­eral Beit Din, we would al­ways re­spond in a re­spect­ful, open way, re­spect­ing peo­ple’s gen­der iden­tity.”

Other prac­ti­cal is­sues fac­ing trans­gen­der peo­ple have been dis­cussed, such as cir­cum­ci­sion and cer­e­monies to mark a gen­der tran­si­tion or for non-bi­nary iden­ti­fied peo­ple (those who nei­ther iden­tify as male nor fe­male).

Rabbi Solomon added: “I have had oc­ca­sional dis­cus­sions with peo­ple who have tran­si­tioned from fe­male to male re­gard­ing whether they would want or re­quire a cir­cum­ci­sion. The best re­sponse I can give at the mo­ment is that we would al­ways re­spond as pos­i­tively as we could to any­one, al­ways in con­sul­ta­tion with ap­pro­pri­ate med­i­cal ad­vice as to whether cir­cum­ci­sion was ap­pro­pri­ate or re­quired in any in­di­vid­ual case.

“If it was felt that some form of sym­bolic rit­ual, to mark both their new gen­der iden­tity and their new Jewish iden­tity, was de­sir­able, then we would cer­tainly try to fa­cil­i­tate such a sym­bolic cer­e­mony.”

Twi­light Peo­ple project man­ager and trans­gen­der ac­tivist Su­rat-Shaan Knan is some­one with first-hand ex­peri- ence of the dif­fi­cul­ties that trans­gen­der peo­ple of faith have to deal with.

“De­spite the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity’s in­creased vis­i­bil­ity and the great work be­ing done by Lib­eral Ju­daism and Twi­light Peo­ple, I still don’t re­ally feel un­der­stood and in­cluded in UK Jewish com­mu­nity life,” he said. “My own com­ing-out ex­pe­ri­ence has been re­plete with un­spo­ken ques­tions and awk­ward en­coun­ters, stem­ming surely from a lack of vis­i­bil­ity.”

Ed­u­ca­tion about the sub­ject should start at an early age, he said. “We need to pro­mote a greater knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of the needs and re­quire­ments of trans­gen­der and gen­der-vari­ant peo­ple. Of­ten there is lit­tle aware­ness about the dif­fer­ence be­tween sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity. Ev­ery rabbi should look into the de­vel­op­ment of life-cy­cle events and liturgy. Jewish rit­ual should be adapted in trans-in­clu­sive ways.

“I would also like to see Trans­gen­der Day of Re­mem­brance, which hap­pens an­nu­ally on Novem­ber 20 to com­mem­o­rate the vic­tims of trans­pho­bic vi­o­lence, added to the ser­vice cal­en­dar in ev­ery con­gre­ga­tion. This year the Twi­light Peo­ple project will be host­ing a multi-faith Shab­bat cer­e­mony at a Lon­don univer­sity.” Lib­eral ac­tivist Su­rat-Shaan Knan at the Knes­set ear­lier this year for Is­rael’s first trans­gen­der con­sul­ta­tion

Prac­ti­cal is­sues around be­ing trans­gen­der have also been at the fore­front of think­ing in Lib­eral Ju­daism’s youth move­ment LJY-Netzer. Two lead­ers on LJY-Netzer’s Machaneh Kadimah sum­mer camp had re­cently come out as trans, lead­ing to dis­cus­sions around which gen­der dorms they should lead. On camp, both were as­signed dorms of the gen­der they iden­ti­fied with and were given the same treat­ment as any other leader.

Twenty-year-old Ruth, one of the lead­ers, stresses how wel­come she was made to feel. “I be­lieve that re­spect­ing iden­ti­ties is at the core of the Lib­eral move­ment,” she said. “At camp, we had some re­ally in­spir­ing and en­gag­ing ses­sions with young peo­ple aged 8-15 about gen­der is­sues. It’s made such a dif­fer­ence to their lives.”

Lib­eral Ju­daism’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Rabbi Danny Rich, said that the move­ment has “re­sponded to the pain that many trans peo­ple feel when con­demned by reli­gious author­i­ties and iso­lated by ig­no­rant neigh­bours. I am proud we are at the fore­front of ef­forts to make trans voices count.”

Two lead­ers on Lib­eral Ju­daism’s sum­mer youth camp re­cently came out as trans

Rabbi Jor­dan is Lib­eral Ju­daism’s stu­dent and young-adult chap­lain. For in­for­ma­tion on the Twi­light Peo­ple project, see twi­light­peo­ple.com

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