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.
Aleksander Dall is a high school junior from Chicago who attended Keshet’s first Midwest LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbaton in October 2018. Having participated in two more Shabbatonim since then, Aleksander is now excited to be a co-chair of the first Keshet Trans Teen Shabbaton this November 8-10 in Saratoga, CA. (Learn more and register at www.keshetonline.org/teenshabbaton.)
We asked Aleksander to share some reflections on their experience at the Keshet Teen Shabbatonim and on being nonbinary and Jewish in honor of Trans Day of Visibility.
As I was trying to write the words to describe what Keshet has done for me, I found myself unhappy with all the words I wrote. This group has done more for me than I could have ever imagined, and a story or normal everyday words aren’t good enough to express that. So here’s a sort of “slam poem” as we remember those whose voices have been muted by their identities, and stand hand in hand to lift all of us up into the light to make us heard.
I Came Out as Jewish by Aleksander Dall (they/he pronouns)
I had always had a strong sense of my Jewish identity, being incredibly proud since an early age of who I was and what I was born into. In an interfaith family my father, a Christian and immigrant, always went to services with my maternal family and I on all the high holidays. I was encouraged to find myself, but when I came out as Trans that policy was no longer enacted.
I shut down. I drew myself away from my faith, away from myself, all of my morals and values. My entire personality changed. I began hiding all parts of my identity. But over 4 years my parents slowly changed, and became my spine in my fight to transition. I couldn’t be Jewish and transgender. I couldn’t be Jewish and gay. These options were never on the table, because I never put them there.
I came out the fourth time as non-binary, again. I was 16 years old. I thought this would fulfill me and my sense of self, but I still wasn’t whole. I started reading self-help books, and I talked myself out of the narrative that I talked myself into my entire life. I felt none of these coming-outs were right. I didn’t know who I was as a person, how could I be sure of the gender that encompassed them?
My first Shabbaton it all came back. The endless songs and prayers, the feeling of community and love I had been missing and felt empty of for so long. I had found my people, in more ways than one. I realized how I felt G-d, I felt him in the love and energy surrounding me and flowing between those I loved and I. I realized my future, where I can survive. My Trans* identity, sexuality, religion, and values included. I learned who I was again, I learned what my goals are, and I did it myself.
I stepped out as Jewish for the first time, again. A leader, and who I had always been. I found myself once again, and made family through Keshet. I became someone I’m proud of, I earned it and worked for it, and the strength my Keshet family gave me drove me to myself.
And this entire time I realized I was never alone. Because through the people who love me, and through my sense of self, I am who I am. I am transgender, I am queer, I am Jewish, I am a musician. These very 4 core identities make me who I am, and there’s not a single reason they can’t coexist. And I only hope that everyone, Jewish or not, of any identity, are able to find themselves the way I have. I hope they can use their voice, and pull themselves out. Try new things, learn new things, and become new things.