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Transgender Day of Remembrance Teaching

November 20, 2020

L’Fi Dati: As I See It

A Message from Rabbi Sam Weintraub

[Rabbi Weintraub’s ‘Drash from our Kabbalat Shabbat service on Shabbat Toldot, Kislev 4 5781 — November 20, 2020]


Shabbat Shalom.

This past week [November 16-20, 2020] has been Transgender Awareness Week and it culminates today in a Transgender Day of Remembrance. We remember those killed because of transphobic violence and I add transgender people who were lost by suicide, as that is so often tied to their oppression.

In our Torah portions these weeks, we continue the stories and journeys of our founding families in Brei’sheet, the Book of Genesis. These narratives are unique in their emphasis on naming. There is more naming and renaming in Brei’sheet than in any other Book in Tanach (Hebrew Scriptures). In Toldot, our Parsha this week, we read of the naming of Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25:25?6) Next week, we are given explanations for the names of eleven of Jacob’s sons.

Renaming is also frequent, and seen as a sign of personal development, spiritual maturity, and increasing closeness to G?d. In next week’s Parsha, Jacob experiences the dream of the ladder and an accompanying, dramatic revelation by G?d; he then renames the place “Beit?El” which means “the house of G?d” (Gen. 28:19). In the following week’s Parsha, after a nighttime wrestling match with a Divine angel, Jacob becomes Israel, or “the one who has striven with G?d …and prevailed” (Gen. 32:29).

Renaming oneself is an empowering step. Taking on a new name, or today, pronoun, is a sign of gathering up the courage to find and embrace the image of G?d inside us. It is a statement of being at home with oneself, of accepting one’s identity despite the judgements of others.

From my conversations with LGBQT people, I understand that many from an early age had a feeling of being different from others in a way they could not at first fully explain or name. Over time, people who are unique this way have developed words to explain and name themselves: gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, transexual, queer, and more.

I imagine that the search for the right terms, the right names, is not an easy one and the harsh judgements of our society make it even harder.

For transgender people in particular, there is a struggle to understand their bodies often without social or even family support. They are met with taunts and hostility. They are told that they aren’t really men or women, and are called “it”. They face roadblocks to enjoying the most basic civic entitlements, such as driving licenses or passports, if they don’t meet rigid categories of male or female.

But now we see the beginnings of liberation. More transexual people are learning to love their bodies, their orientation, and so they can say, like Jacob at Beit?El “Achein Yeish HaShem BaMakom Ha’zeh – Truly, G?d is in this place”.

We all share this world, whether we are LGBQT or, hopefully, their allies. It’s a world wherein it’s hard to be different, and easy to be misunderstood and even ostracized.

By the hallowing of names, the Book of Brei’sheet and Judaism affirm a G?d who is in every story, every place, and every person. The way to live with honor is not to blend in but to express one’s difference. The way to change and repair the world is to see holiness everywhere, and to name it.

We continue now with Mourner’s Kaddish for the victims of transphobic violence and for those who took their lives because of unbearable oppression. I do not generally encourage saying Kaddish for someone unless you are an immediate family member. Tonight, because so many transgender people are rejected by their families, let us all recite Kaddish.

May their love, their devotion, their courage to search live on as a blessing. Let us show respect by now openly honoring and empowering transgender people, in our Synagogue, our greater Jewish community, and our country.

V’cheyn Y’hei Zichronam Baruch.
So their memories will be a blessing.

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