Q: After a successful Transgender Awareness Month, how can we make transgender people more welcome in our synagogues and communities?
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Rabbi Elli tikvah sarah says…
For transgender people to feel welcome in our synagogues and communities, those who constitute the majority need to inform themselves of the issues.
One way is to read Jewish News’ online LGBT page, including Surat Knan’s blog, Twilight Journeys.
The beginning of awareness is the recognition of binary gender assumptions. For example, most people only know how to relate to a baby once they’ve been told its gender.
For transgender people, who make the decision to take hormones but not have surgery, or to opt out of both, or for those who define themselves as ‘gender queer’, there is a preference for gender neutral pronouns, such as the use of the pronoun, ‘zie’, or ‘they’.
The important thing is not to make assumptions. The issue is not just how people directly address those who are transgender or gender queer. Every time a group is welcomed with the words, ‘Ladies and gentlemen’, or, references to ‘he’ and ‘she’, binary gender is being reinforced. Synagogues and communal venues also impose binary gender via toilet signs.
What are we telling children with the use of stick people with and without skirts? And are urinals really appropriate in multigenerational settings? Surely, all that’s required are secure toilet doors. For transgender and gender queer Jews to feel fully welcome, everything – services, ritual, prayer-language, study, life cycle and social activities – needs to be inclusive, reflecting a plural gender reality.
• Elli Tikvah Sarah is rabbi at Brighton & Hove Progressive Synagogue
Rabbi Sandra Kviat says…
I’m a cisgender, heterosexual, married rabbi with a child and consider myself an inclusive person who understands the complexities of gender relationships. And yet I had never truly thought about what it means to be properly inclusive as a rabbi, when it comes to gender identity.
When someone who questions their gender wants to have a coming of age ceremony, what will you do?
Or what about the couple who wants to have a Jewish recognition of their love but one of them is trans?
Or when a person with a non-binary gender identity dies, who will do tahara (ritual wash)?
How can we change our rituals so every Jew can have the ceremony they want and need? Considering transgender issues can make our understanding of Judaism more meaningful.
This was hammered home over the chagim when I was writing a dvar on the portion Nitzavim.
The idea is that everyone in the community, including non-Jews, is present at the giving of the Ten Commandments.
My original point was that we should open up our circle to include those not mentioned.
Then it dawned on me it is not about welcoming them in from the twilight, but acknowledging the High Holy Days as a time of sacred twilight for all of us.
For some, the twilight of soul searching and teshuva is not just 10 days but a permanent state of being.
By recognising and reminding ourselves that gender and identity is more complex than just a binary, by not seeing transgender as a threat, we can welcome the opportunity for all of us to grow.
• Sandra Kviat is a rabbi with Liberal Judaism