For Ari Lev Fornari, Gender and Palestinian Liberation Are Linked

Transgender & Jewish

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published July 16, 2013, issue of July 19, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

“I am one of those people who have wanted to be a rabbi since I was a little kid,” said Ari Lev Fornari, a fifth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew College, a pluralistic college of Jewish studies in Newton Centre, Mass. His professional ambitions were “not disconnected from my own queer inclination.” The only out gay person he knew as a child was his rabbi, Karen Bender, at Temple Beth El of Great Neck. (She is now a rabbi at Temple Judea, in Tarzana, Calif.)

But in 2006, Fornari had a “crisis of faith” that nearly turned him away from Judaism altogether. That year, he traveled to Israel and the Palestinian territories with two transgender friends. After participating in nonviolent protests in the West Bank, he found himself “unlearning Zionism.” On the same trip, more than 7,000 miles from home — a safe distance to experiment — he came out as transgender and began using male pronouns.

Activist: Ari Lev Fornari has spoken out about the Palestinians as part of his spiritual journey.
abraham krieger
Activist: Ari Lev Fornari has spoken out about the Palestinians as part of his spiritual journey.

The experience showed him the “connection between gender liberation and Palestinian liberation”: Both entail “healing and self-determination.” But seeing the Israel Defense Forces’ treatment of Palestinians shook his faith. “I decided I could turn away from Judaism or turn toward Judaism and see if it could be a source of healing and wholeness and lived path,” he said.

Fornari chose the latter, and enrolled at Hebrew College in 2008. As a rabbinical student, he has sought to frame gender transition as a cause for celebration in the Jewish tradition rather than something to be muted or hidden. “Come out because it is a holy thing to do,” he said. Transgender Jews should feel that “not only am I doing this because I need to survive, but it is what God wants for us. It is part of bringing God’s will into the world.”

Fornari has continued his activism for Palestinian rights, serving on the rabbinical council of Jewish Voice for Peace. He has also published essays on gender transition and Judaism. In one 2007 piece in Sh’ma, a Jewish journal of ideas, he describes using a binder — a shirt that compresses the chest — tied with tzittzit to create a modified tallit katan, a fringed undergarment traditionally worn by Jewish men. He and Kukla penned a prayer to be recited during chest binding: “For the sake of the mitzvah of ritual fringes and the mitzvah of self-formation.”


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!
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • 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.