LGBTQ rabbis, rabbinical students and allies call on Hillel International not to let a dispute over Israel politics keep LGBTQ Jews out of Hillel.
If you disagree with Zionist Jews within a community, tell them they’re wrong. Don’t deny the sincerity of their beliefs.
As an ex-Orthodox Jew, a gay man, and the son of lesbian women—and thus someone who has experienced oppression in the Orthodox community as both a queer person and the son of queer women—I find both Katz’s and Herzfeld’s articles not only self-congratulatory, but false and harmful.
Summer camp has not always been a welcoming place for transgender Jewish youth. That’s changing as new camps spring up — and existing ones try to be more inclusive.
When Leiah Moser began her gender transition last year, she found an unexpected cushion in rabbinical school, where many of her fellow students were trying on new identities and even new names. “All of my classmates are undergoing this intense, extreme process of transformation, and most of them feel just as challenged and confused about it as I do my gender transition,” she said.
“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.”
“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.)
The fact that she’s the only out transgender female rabbi doesn’t surprise 28-year-old Emily Aviva Kapor. It’s a reflection of sexism in the broader society, she said, paired with the fact that the Jewish feminist movement largely has overlooked trans women. “If I want to have an affirmative Judaism for all women, including trans women,” she said, “I have to make it myself.”
As the first out transgender student accepted at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in 2003, Reuben Zellman recalled reading about his historic admission in a local newspaper. “I realized I was the first transgender person I had ever seen in the media who was still alive,” he said.
“I don’t think it was an accident that I found myself coming out as trans at the same time that I found myself becoming ordained,” said Rabbi Elliot Kukla, the first out transgender rabbi to be ordained in 2006 at HUC-JIR’s Los Angeles campus. “There is a certain identity transition in becoming a rabbi that, for me, surfaced feelings of, ‘Who am I in the deepest sense, and how do people see me?’”