Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
When I talk about myself, as a trans Jewish woman, I am asked a lot about the challenges of being trans and Jewish, the long list of “can’t”s and “don’t”s that come along with those two identities. But rarely do I get asked about the joys, the beautiful moments of love and happiness that I have found since coming out.
So when I got to meet one of my role models, Abby Stein, a trans Jewish woman like me, I jumped at the chance to talk about those joys with her and to learn from her. As part of my role as an honoree for the upcoming Keshet OUT!standing NYC Gala, I got the opportunity to have a Facebook Live discussion with Abby, one of the gala’s honorary chairs.
Both Abby and I came from Orthodox backgrounds where trans identities were just never discussed. Her background was far more religious than mine, but both of us struggle with how to feel about our histories and how we embrace our backgrounds.
She brought up a term coined by Rabbi David Ingber of Romemu, “Post-God Stress Disorder,” and that’s definitely an idea I relate to. I have struggled to reconnect with aspects of my faith that to me are connected with Orthodoxy and maleness. I always wonder who I would be if I had stayed in the Orthodox world. I definitely would not be the proud, loud person I am today. But I miss my home. And Abby reminded me that that’s okay.
Today, I am lucky enough to live in a community that celebrates me as a trans Jew. I would say that a great number of progressive Jewish communities tolerate trans people. But “celebrate” and “tolerate” are not the same thing. “Tolerance is for lactose,” Abby said. Communities can say that they welcome trans people. But that isn’t good enough. They need to match that commitment with action.
Those actions don’t need to be big. They can be as small as Keshet’s LGBTQ Safe Zone stickers or Trans Jews Belong Here signs and stickers hanging around the physical spaces our communities inhabit. Those actions make a difference and publicly show to anyone who enters these spaces – especially the young queer kids looking for spaces they can feel safe in – that our communities are welcoming.
They can also take the form of installing gender neutral bathrooms, celebrating Pride, supporting pro-trans campaigns like Massachusetts Yes On 3, and so much more. Creating welcoming and inclusive spaces isn’t just about words – it’s about action.
As I apply to colleges, I’m looking for Jewish spaces that will welcome me, like my school, synagogue, and the other queer Jewish spaces in my life Keshet provides. In the last three years, Jewish institutions – in large part because of Keshet and the hard work of so many Jewish queer people – have become more and more welcoming of trans people.
At Shabbat services at one campus Hillel, I wore a borrowed bright pink tallit and read Torah and sang, and I felt at home. But even with all of this, nothing compares to those spaces that are explicitly queer and Jewish.
The greatest joy in my Jewish life comes from the Keshet Shabbaton weekends I spend with queer Jewish teens from across the country. Through Keshet, I have found my faith, overcome some of my anxieties about my background, and found a stable base, a home, where I can go out from and effect change. And that is the power of inclusive communities, of the spaces Abby and I have found and created for ourselves.
Alyx Bernstein is currently a high school senior, and the Keshet youth programs intern. She is a long-time Shabbaton participant, and will be co-chairing the upcoming Women and Girls Shabbaton.
Abby Stein is a transgender activist, speaker and author. Abby was raised in the Hasidic community, and uses her platform to speak about transgender rights, as well as a wide variety of social justice issues.