Jacob Lieberman Wants To Change the Jewish World

Transgender & Jewish

Jewish Ideas: Jacob Lieberman helped create the Transgender/Genderqueer Committee at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
maria pouchnikova
Jewish Ideas: Jacob Lieberman helped create the Transgender/Genderqueer Committee at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

By Naomi Zeveloff

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

“I didn’t come to be a rabbi because I wanted to change the Jewish world about transgender issues,” said Jacob Lieberman, 34, a fourth-year student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, in Wyncote, Pa. “I came because I have Jewish ideas that I want to help to infuse into our society.”

Lieberman’s aim to make Judaism “meaningful, accessible and relevant” was sparked by a high school trip to Vilna, Lithuania, where he connected with teens who were hungry for Judaism but had little experience with it. On a visit to a synagogue in Old Vilnius with several dozen young Lithuanian Jews, he realized just how inaccessible the service was to people unfamiliar with Hebrew or even worship. “I felt like synagogue is supposed to be a place where people find a path to Judaism, not a door they have to have a key to unlock to see the riches behind,” he recounted.

When Lieberman entered rabbinical school — after nine years in the labor and gay rights movements — he again focused on issues of access, this time for his own community of transgender Jews. In his first year at RRC, Lieberman and his adviser, Rabbi Jacob Staub, started the Transgender/Genderqueer Committee, an unofficial school group made up of five students and five faculty members. (“Genderqueer” is an umbrella term for people who don’t identify as solely male or female.) The group created a “Transgender 101” training for the school’s staff. It also worked with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association to craft a resolution, issued in March, in support of transgender rabbis and transgender partners of rabbis. “It is quite soon that folks like myself will be coming up for employment,” Lieberman said. “The RRA is saying we want transgender and genderqueer folk to have as much of a shot at employment as we do.”

In the fall, Lieberman and another transgender student on the committee, Leiah Moser, will meet with local Reconstructionist synagogues to talk about their path to the rabbinate.

Lieberman looks forward to the day when the Jewish community reaches what he calls the “2.0 version of transgender inclusion,” when trans people are treated like everyone else. “It’s a sign that we’ve made progress when we no longer say, ‘Trans people are welcome in my community,’ but instead say, ‘Of course you are welcome in my community; you are welcome to become rabbis, and you are going to do the best you can, just like everyone else does.’”


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!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • 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.