Sunday, May 22, 2016
This post is way overdue, at the same time as it is always in due time, especially now as I am preparing myself for a “Celebration of Life in TRANSition,” next Saturday morning June 4th.
It was a summery Friday afternoon, exactly three years ago, when I visited this place called Romemu for the first time. For over a year, since I have joined Footsteps in May of 2012, I have been hearing about this place. All of my ‘secular’ friends (aka, people who grew up in the Hasidic community and left that world, and were now ‘Off The Derech’) who went there were praising it as a place where Judaism is fun and interesting. My friends were talking about how Romemu uses musical instruments on Shabbat (which - in the world I grew up - means that they are not r'really' religious in any way), and yet they still celebrate Shabbat in a meaningful way. However, to me, a youngster in my early twenties who just left my radical religious community of birth, and identified as an Atheist, exploring anything new felt useless and stupid. I only went to Romemu because a friend of mine was going, and he convinced me to join him.
I got there late, and walked in as the Rabbi (little did I know that this ‘rabbi’ will one day transform my life in every possible way) was giving the sermon. I walked in and walked out after five minutes.
What happened, you might ask? The rabbi mentioned “God” (how dare).
At the time, I was suffering - without having a name for it - from “Post God Traumatic Disorder.” A common distress for people who are being raised in radically religious communities (okay medical professionals, don’t be upset, I know this is not an official DSM diagnose… but it should be). I could not stand to listen to anymore God talk, even if it was on Friday Night, in a synagogue that is hosted in a church, with music on Shabbat, and mixed seating (all of these facts are enough to declare a synagogue ‘not Jewish’ for Ultra-Orthodox Jews).
Perhaps I did not realize it at the time, but I wasn’t just upset with the God Talk. I was also disappointed and maybe lost (here you go, I said it). At that point it was a year and a half since I stopped being observant, and even longer since I realized that I don’t believe in that ‘thing’ or whatever it is that my family and community called God, or Hashem, or Aibishter. Yet I started to realize that I am missing community, I am missing enjoying the celebrations of the life and year cycles through Shabbat and Holidays, I am slightly missing community, and well, I am even missing hardcore text study. In my mind I knew and believed that religion and everything surrounding it, is 100% man made (I still think that until today, but nowadays it is not only not discouraging, but it is empowering), and if there is no god, I just ‘cannot’ follow it. Secretly I was hoping to find a place where I can have all of the benefits Judaism has to offer, without believing in some divine existence. I have tried non Jewish/Humanistic communities and none of them felt like home. I think that as much as the rabbi mentioning God turned me off, I was more disappointed that I did not find a new home.
Once again, little did I know that I found a home, and not just a home; I found a lifeline in so many ways.
It took me another six months before I stepped foot in Romemu again. I will maybe share another time how that happened, for now, let me make a long (maybe not so long in time, but radically long in emotional turbulence) story short, at the end of fall 2013, I was back, this time to stay.
Two of the (so many) features I observed at Romemu, which convinced me that this is the place for me, were the values of radical egalitarianism, together with radical acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, and the celebration of the queer community with pride. At the time, a bystander might have thought that I am a straight, heterosexual, cis-male. None of these three labels were accurate, and I knew it way too well. I have already shared some of my experience in the past here on my blog, and on national and international media. At that time, I was battling some of the worst forms of Gender-dysphoria; I already had a Facebook account with a Female identity, and was active in the online Trans community. I consciously observed and realized, that not only have I found a place that can nurture my need for community, and meaningful mindfulness, but also a place where - if I ever find the courage, or what ended up being the need for survival - I can come out, and live life as a woman (with a sexuality that I am still figuring out) of trans experience, I will have a supporting and loving community.
On top of that, I saw Romemu as a place where I am not an outsider for the fact that I grew up in a sheltered community. To the reverse, it is a place where they are no outsiders, because we are all insiders. The Formerly-Orthodox, or as we call it the XO (hence to title of this post) community, is a strong and contributing part of the community.
All together I felt like I found a community straight outta a fairy-tale Disney movie. Yet here, the fairy-tale became a wonderful real-life story!
When the time came last November and I came out, I realized that I was wrong. In my sweetest dreams, I could've not even dared to imagine how this community, of which I was by now a two year long member, will help me and embrace me. From the Rabbis to every community member, young and old. My dear life mentor Rabbi David Ingber, who went above and beyond to help me in private and in public (I really can’t say enough about the amount of help and support he gave me, especially with my family), including an emotional sermon (coming full circle with the sermons here…). If you haven’t seen the sermon yet, make sure to check it out on my YouTube channel. Rabbi Jessica Kate Mayer to whom I first came out; her support has since been pouring non-stop, and she will go out of her way to help. And so on, the entire community. Thank you all.
I wanted the write this post for a while by now, and as I said in the beginning, now it is just in place.
I am currently preparing for an event that feels like it will be one of the most important days and celebrations in my life. Next Shabbat Morning, June 4th, I will be having a Celebration at Romemu. Call it a Bat Mitzva of sorts. We will do a name change at the Torah, followed by a Kiddush, which is the traditional way of celebrating milestones in one’s life. I am doing this event in public not just to celebrate my own life in transition, but to send a message to the entire Jewish-Trans community, the entire queer community, and well, every human being:
Look, no matter what you think, you can find community, you can, and will find love. Don’t feel alone, because you are not alone. One might think that tradition has no way to accommodate and celebrate us, and maybe it didn’t have until now, but it does now!!!
This is also a personal invite to every person reading this. I would love to see you at the event. It is at Romemu, 105th Street and Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side of New York City. Services start at 10:00, and Kiddush will be at around 12:30. No matter if you attend synagogue every week, or if you have never attended synagogue or any place of worship at all, you are welcome.
Also, if you want to contribute to this event in any way or form, especially donate towards the Kiddush, please email at firstname.lastname@example.org.With Love, xoxo,
Abby @ The Second Transition
Here is the event description from Facebook:
No matter how we feel about religion, tradition and rituals, there is one thing that I always loved about Judaism; we know how to celebrate and ritualize the life cycle. For two thousand years, Jews all over the world have used the time of Torah (Hebrew Bible) reading, to celebrate different milestones in their, and their families and loved ones' lives. Especially, the naming of a newborn girl.
I want to invite ALL of my friends (I invited 500 of my Facebook friends to this event - the maximum FB allows, Jewish and non Jewish alike, friends I know through Footsteps, Romemu, Columbia University, Camp, Queer Support Groups, and from everywhere else, because I want to see as many of you as possible, feel free to remove yourself from the event) To my celebration at Romemu!
There will be a name change ceremony during reading the Torah, at morning services, starting at 10. And a celebratory Kiddush (lunch) following services at 12:30.
If you are at Romemu every week, or if you have never been, or if you have never been to a synagogue at all, you are heartly invited!!!
 I will just mention two books that played a part in that, because well, I love books. “Judaism as a Civilization” by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (founder of the Reconstructionist Movement), was the first book I read about contemporary liberal Jewish Theology and Community development. His work was a great introduction to redefined concepts of God, Jewish Nationality and identity, the role of community, and spirituality outside of the traditional connection with ‘something above’.
The second book, and one that I was introduced to because of Romemu, and which ended up forming most of my current relationships with spirituality and Judaism, was “Jewish With Feeling” By The Rebbe, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (founder of Jewish Renewal). His book, and then his other teachings, gave me the first tools on how to deal with God, divine, and God talk, while being philosophically an atheist, and how to build a personal meaningful practice.