Transgender Jews Seek Place at Table

Conference Aims To Break Communal Silence on Issue

Speaking Up: Transgender Jews celebrate shabbat at a California synagogue.
Speaking Up: Transgender Jews celebrate shabbat at a California synagogue.

By Chanan Tigay

Published November 14, 2012, issue of November 16, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Shortly before Emily Aviva Kapor began the transition from male to female, she sat down to discuss the process with her mother.

“I told her I was going on hormones, and she said the most Jewish thing to me,” 27-year-old Kapor recalled. “She said, ‘Well, at least you’re not getting a tattoo.’”

It’s a funny line that anyone with a Jewish mother can appreciate. But as it turns out, the most Jewish thing to say on the subject of gender identity probably would have been nothing at all.

For many years, those knowledgeable on the subject say, Jews and Jewish organizations largely met their transgender co-religionists with silence. Slowly, that is beginning to change. From November 2 to November 4, Kapor and nearly 30 other transgender, transsexual, queer, intersex and gender-nonconforming Jews from across North America sought to expand this opening-up process at a gathering here, billed as the first-ever retreat for such Jews.

“With transgender and gender-queer identity, there wasn’t a Jewish frame of reference in which to speak it,” said Rabbi David Dunn Bauer, director of West Coast programming for Nehirim, the LGBT group that sponsored the event. The result, he said, was “silence.”

On the other side of the equation, he added, “Jewish transgender people did not want to speak their names or their identities out loud — or if they did, they had to leave their communities and restart somewhere else, kind of like the witness protection program. So, there was silence from transgender people.”

The Nehirim Jewish Transgender Gathering, as the shabbaton was called, was “a space where people could be present in their full identities.”

Among those attending was Enzi Tanner, a 28-year-old African American who is in the process of converting to Judaism. Tanner grew up Pentecostal, was born again as a Baptist and later worked toward ordination as a United Church of Christ minister before deciding to convert to Judaism.

“For me, gender transformation and Judaism go hand in hand,” Tanner said, sitting outside the conference in his purple yarmulke, bowtie and suspenders. “Some things in my mind were always fixed: Gender cannot be changed; the only way to be Jewish is to be born Jewish. Once I realized that gender isn’t such a fixed thing, years later I met Jewish people and realized you didn’t have to be born Jewish to be Jewish.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.