Love Thy Transgender Neighbor
We were a sight to behold: six Jews and two Hindus standing shoulder to shoulder on the synagogue bimah (stage) , smiling and teary-eyed as we watched “Abe” receive a new Hebrew name, an important part of his Jewish identity. He beamed as the Rabbi blessed him and gave him the new name, one that he could now use as a transgender man.
By Idalia Friedson
In that moment, Judaism suddenly felt more expansive to me than it ever had, and I admired the growth I’d seen in the Conservative synagogue I grew up in. For possibly the first time, Abe’s existence as a transgender man was not something that was just accepted, but actively celebrated. Judaism helped that to happen.
In a short period of time, our synagogue had evolved from a place where LGBT issues were never discussed to a place implementing a gender neutral bathroom; where the Rabbi’s unprecedented sermon on LGBT inclusivity was well-received; and where he had created a renaming ceremony specifically for Abe. Without a doubt, Abe’s advocacy—and the Rabbi’s care for him—helped spur such a pivotal change in the congregation.
Judaism is traditionally a religion that emphasizes relationships, families, and children. Yet, it has catered to those who are cisgender and straight, particularly when it comes to rituals (think of naming ceremonies, blessings over sons and daughters, wedding ceremonies, etc.).
How can we work to extend and adapt some of the central Jewish rituals so that they include those who are part of the LGBT community?
Before he led the naming ceremony, the Rabbi told us that he had scoured the web and Jewish resources to find prayers for someone who was transgender. He found very little and took the important first step of compiling and adding to what already existed. Now he has a semblance of a service to share with other Rabbis and to offer other transgender congregants and their families.
While the fight continues to create a world where LGBT people are accepted and protected, Judaism should help lead the way in celebrating the LGBT community by making its rituals more expansive. Furthermore, congregations need to let their communities know what these rituals could look like for those who are LGBT.
As a queer woman, I often wonder what my Jewish wedding will one day look like. Are there certain blessings that I need to modify? Who will step on the glass? Will a Rabbi marry me?
The good news is that for many Reform and Conservative Jews, prayers and customs can be modified, and there are Rabbis who will marry queer couples under the huppah.
But I was never positive, because I was never told. A synagogue that did not discuss LGBT issues was better than one that was openly hostile to the LGBT community; yet it also left me feeling that being queer would not be accepted and/or that it had nothing to do with Judaism.
In reality, being LGBT has everything to do with Judaism, because it affects our relationships to one another, to ourselves, to our families, to our children, and to G-d.
Many people in both the secular and the religious worlds, as well in state and federal governments, are working to rescind or refuse protections for those in the LGBT community. Judaism has an important role to play in reminding the world that the first step towards change is loving your neighbor as yourself.
Abe’s neighbors now call him by his true, Jewish name. And the world is a bit better for it.
Idalia Friedson works in Washington DC as a Business Consultant for Publicis.Sapient and is on the Advisory Board of the Quantum Alliance Initiative at Hudson Institute, which focuses on quantum computing policy. She is also a fellow in the Hineni 2018-2019 program, which focuses on empowering LGBT Jews to be leaders in their community.
JWI’s work to end violence against women includes all women, regardless of their sex at birth. The efforts of the current Administration to redefine sex as a biological condition only serves to further the harm done to already vulnerable communities. Transgender women of color are more likely than any other group to experience violence. Read more here.