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.
This piece is written by Alek Dall and Ezra Silkes, the co-chairs of the teen steering committee for the Keshet Trans Shabbaton.
We’d like to invite you to the first trans-specific Keshet Shabbaton! For all who identify as transgender, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, and more, this Shabbaton has a specific focus on the experiences of transgender Jewish teens. We’ve been working very hard to ensure that this Shabbaton, the first of its kind, is an impactful experience for transgender Jews. These intersecting identities have an undeniable effect on a person, and that’s why we’re so excited to help create a space where this impact is acknowledged and appreciated.
To us, being a trans Jew is an inherently formative experience, which is why it’s so important to reflect on what these identities mean to us as we create this Shabbaton.
Ezra: I never really identified as Jewish as a kid. It was simply something that my family did, so I went along with it. I had a lot of other things to deal with, and my religious identity was very much at the bottom of the list. One of the things higher on my list of priorities was my gender identity. In 2015 I started questioning my gender and was looking for spaces I could comfortably do this. I found those spaces in my Jewish community with my Jewish friends. As I grew more comfortable with being trans, this community let me reconnect to my Jewish identity. It took years, but eventually, I was able to walk into my synagogue and feel completely comfortable as my entire self, as the transgender Jew that I am. Organizations like Keshet were crucial in giving me that self-confidence. Being in spaces where everyone around me was unapologetically LGBTQ and Jewish, no matter how they expressed those identities, was vital in showing me that I could claim my Judaism however I chose to. Spaces like Keshet also taught me that my being trans and my being Jewish didn’t have to be separate parts of me. Keshet showed me that I didn’t have to be trans-and-also-Jewish, I could be trans AND Jewish. I’m so excited to help create the first-ever Trans Shabbaton, because being in a space where you are encouraged to exist as your entire self is one of the most important experiences anyone could have.
Alek: When discovering my LGBT identity, I suddenly had the belief that I no longer belonged in Jewish spaces. I felt alienated from my religion, and alienated from the LGBT community for openly expressing my belief system. When I first discovered Keshet, I was reunited with my spirituality and finally was able to exist in a space where I no longer had to hide or tone down any part of my identity. Instead, it became a main focus of the leadership I try to exhibit in all spaces: our identities are many-faceted and when we can bring all of ourselves to the table, we are the strongest versions of ourselves. My goal for this Shabbaton has been and continues to be creating a strong sense of safety, self, and intersectional identity for people who have walked in similar shoes that I have.
As we excitedly plan for a fun, trans and Jewish experience, we want you to be a part of the weekend as well. Please join us for the first Trans* Shabbaton in Saratoga, CA, on November 8-10, 2019! Registration is now open!
*This Shabbaton is open to all self-identified trans, non-binary, genderqueer, and/or gender-questioning Jewish teens in grades 8-12.