Panelists Discuss Being Trans in the Jewish Community - Rabbinical student, Koach Baruch Frazier | Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Panelists Discuss Being Trans in the Jewish Community - Rabbinical student, Koach Baruch Frazier

News

By Selah Maya Zighelboim; Photo: Selah Maya Zighelboim

Originally published in the Jewish Exponent on Nov. 27, 2019

From left: Laurie Frankel, Jessica Tayler, Koach Baruch Frazier and Moriah Levin discuss being transgender in the Jewish community.

From left: Laurie Frankel, Jessica Tayler, Koach Baruch Frazier and Moriah Levin discuss being transgender in the Jewish community.

From left: Laurie Frankel, Jessica Tayler, Koach Baruch Frazier and Moriah Levin discuss being transgender in the Jewish community.

“How do I know?” Moriah Levin said on Nov. 19 during a panel about being transgender in the Jewish community. “It’s because I felt a certain way from a very, very young age, and I kept waiting to grow out of it. I kept thinking it would change, and it didn’t.”

Levin was one of the panelists at “Transgender and Jewish: Conversations for a Changing Community.” The event featured four speakers — two transgender adults and two mothers of transgender children — who shared their personal stories and discussed how the Jewish community has been supportive and where it has been lacking. It took place at the Barbara and Harvey Brodsky Enrichment Center of Jewish Family and Children’s Service in Bala Cynwyd.

It began with an address by keynote speaker Laurie Frankel, a New York Times bestselling author who lives in Seattle. Her latest novel, “This Is How It Always Is,” is about a family whose fifth child comes out as transgender. The book is based on Frankel’s real-life experience as the mother of a transgender daughter.

“The conversation that we are having on a national level about LGBTQ issues, but particularly about trans kids, has been full of lies. … It has also been fear-mongering,” Frankel said. “It is intended to drive votes and turn out voters, and it has been dishonest, so I wanted to have a conversation about it. I did not so much want to say, ‘I will set the record straight,’ and I did not want to say, ‘I’m going to educate you and tell you everything you need to know.’ That was not at all my goal going in” to write the book.

Her goal was summed up in the title of the novel.

“Always, you are parenting this young person, and that person shows up and says to you this thing that you never saw coming and certainly weren’t planning for and then you have to figure out what to do next,” Frankel said. “Bad news: You have no idea what that is, and it’s really important that you choose correctly or otherwise you’re going to screw up your kid.”

Much of Frankel’s talk focused on the reaction she received, both to her book and to a column she wrote about her daughter for the Times’ “Modern Love” column. When the latter was published, her email inbox was flooded with hate, even death threats to her and her daughter. Some of the emails carried anti-Semitic messages.

The hate was so great that there was a discussion about whether she should have security go with her on book tour. But those fears did not manifest. When she walked into book stores and other venues throughout the country to talk about her book, attendees were supportive.

After Frankel’s talk, she and the other three panelists stepped onto the platform. The others included Levin, who is involved in the LGBTQ Orthodox organization Eshel; Koach Baruch Frazier, an audiologist and student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College; and Jessica Tayler, mother of a transgender child and an LGBTQ advocate.

They covered a range of topics, including how their Jewish communities have responded to their trans identities.

Levin and Frazier, for example, recalled positive experiences. When Levin told rabbis in her Orthodox Center City community that she was going to come out and publicly transition, they were all supportive and asked when she would switch sides of the mechitza.

Frazier said that his Reform synagogue in Missouri, where he lived at the time, worked with him to create a meaningful mikvah transition ceremony at the river. He said his transition was more difficult for his work.

“When I changed my name legally, everybody thought I got married,” Frazier said to laughs from the audience.

Tayler, on the other hand, shared how their family’s elementary school principal in Tennessee called them into the office to tell them other families felt uncomfortable being in the same class as their older son (her transgender child was not yet in elementary school) or near their family.

The event then moved on to a Q&A. One question was about trans children and medical interventions.

Frankel emphasized that there is no medical intervention for prepubescent children, such as the use of puberty blockers to delay puberty. When it comes to young pubescent children, medical intervention is noninvasive. Levin and Frazier both said it’s a private decision, and Frazier said he wished he’d had the option.

“Trust me,” Levin said. “Trust trans people when we say who we are.”

More News

College News

Rabbinical Student Koach Baruch Frazier named LGBTQ Jewish Hero by Keshet

“I express my Jewish identity at the synagogue, at work as I serve people and my community, and through my social justice activism.” This includes drumming for justice “using my djembe — an African drum — that provided the cadence, much like a heartbeat, to help us as we marched in Ferguson.”

News
College News

Rabbi Sandra Lawson (’18) named LGBTQ Jewish Hero by Keshet

“We are raising a generation of Jews to look past whomever their grandfathers’ rabbis were. One of the things I want the larger Jewish community to understand is that rabbis today are a diverse group. Many are people of color. Many are not straight. Many might be married to non-Jews. My difference, my diversity, is helping people become aware of that.”

News
College News

Rabbi Sharon A. Kleinbaum ('90) Appointed to US Commission on International Religious Freedom

“We welcome the appointment of Rabbi Kleinbaum to USCIRF.” said Chair Tony Perkins. “Rabbi Kleinbaum is a widely recognized leader in both faith and politics, which will make her a great asset in the complex environment in which we advocate for communities and individuals around the world who are discriminated against or persecuted for their beliefs.”

News
College News

Hate Knocks on the Door: What to do when your synagogue is vandalized? - Rabbi Shira Stutman ('07)

The door flew open, and there was Rabbi Shira Stutman.  She beamed, smiling and immediately embraced us. “Welcome,” she said, “welcome to Sixth and I.”

News
College News

After years of pressure from advocates, Pa. House advances gift ban - Rabbi Michael Pollack ('17)

After years of pressure from advocates, leaders in Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled state House are indicating they might be willing to substantially tighten the law governing legislative gifts.

Michael Pollack, a Philadelphia rabbi, has spent the last three years nonviolently agitating for a gift ban with the group March on Harrisburg.

News
College News

The Growing Ranks of Female Scribes - Rabbi Bec Richman ('18)

Richman feels that there is a tension in her understanding of her craft. On one hand, it does feel “powerfully subversive” to do something denied to women for centuries; on the other hand, she does find meaning in tradition.

News
College News

For artist-rabbi and his Baltimore flock, Rosh Hashanah means honoring the past before letting it go - Rabbi Douglas Heifetz ('05)

It’s no coincidence Heifetz, a 45-year-old Silver Spring resident, thought of turning the tradition into an exercise in art. About four years ago, he says, he felt a compulsion to “do something with my hands” and began experimenting with metal as an art form. Heifetz progressed from creatively bending silverware to molding and shaping metal, transforming spoons, copper wire and car trim into works of art.

News
College News

Rabbinical student, May Ye, led a workshop on improving racial equality in Judaism

Ye led discussions on the intersection of social justice and spiritual space, and how to honor the wide variety of ethnic backgrounds that exist in Judaism.

News
College News

Rabbi Amy Bernstein (‘97) featured in Tashlikh Reconstructed

“We accept the responsibility for changing and for changing this world. That is what people need to stay in hope. And without hope, there is no energy for no creative new solutions,” says Rabbi Amy Bernstein (‘97) in this moving video, Tashlikh Reconstructed.

News
College News

Rabbi Michelle Stern ('11) honored as an outstanding young professional by Jewish Federation

The award, which was presented at the Federation’s Annual Meeting Sept. 17, recognizes Jewish professionals under 40 whose exemplary performance at a Jewish agency in the Chicago area has benefited the entire Jewish community.

News
College News

‘We are all accountable’: Maryland’s Jewish community protests ICE in Howard County - Rabbi Ariana Katz ('18)

“We are all accountable for the violence that happens at our borders,” Katz said. “Showing up for others is actually an action you can do in a world that feels powerless.”

News
College News

Rabbi Rachel Weiss ('09) was a keynote speaker at Evanston's first Pride Fest.

Keynote speakers included Rabbi Rachel Weiss of Evanston’s Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation. Weiss was raised in Evanston and said she is the town’s first lesbian rabbi. “I came back after college and my wife and I got married here in Evanston at the synagogue where I am now rabbi,” Weiss said.

News
College News

A nesting chain of dependencies - Rabbi Leiah Moser (‘17)

“I was very interested in Kaplan’s approach to Judaism as an evolving religious civilization, and the idea that it is a manifestation of Jews and what we believe and how we believe, not the other way around. It is not that we are Torah, and therefore we are Jews. It is more that we are Jews, and therefore there is Torah.”

News
College News

Out rabbi to begin tenure at local synagogue - Rabbi Alanna Sklover (‘13)

A graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College with a specialization in the congregational rabbinate, Sklover said she identifies with the strong sense of community and inclusion that the Or Hadash congregation cultivates. 

News
College News

Tai chi with tefillin: Inside New York’s quirkiest yeshiva

“Parts of it feels radically different,” said Lily Solochek, a rabbinical student who began studying at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary and is now a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

News