The Conspiracy

The Jewishness of Memorializing Transgender Lives

Dear Jewish community,

Three years ago on Nov. 15, Leslie Feinberg passed away after a long battle with chronic Lyme disease. Ze was an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, revolutionary communist.

“As Jews, we are a community-oriented people, especially when it comes to grief.” | [Public Domain], via Pixabay.

I couldn’t help but think of Leslie on Nov. 20, the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to memorialize those who have died at the hands of transphobia and a call for action to end the epidemic of violence against the transgender community. I found myself at a vigil for the Transgender Day of Remembrance that happened to fall on Shabbat, holding a candle and reciting the names of the transgender people who had been killed that year, and thinking about the inherent Jewishness of this gathering.

It is difficult to be Jewish alone. As Jews, we are a community-oriented people, especially when it comes to grief. We light yahrzeit candles and lift up the names of those we have lost in communal settings. We sit shiva so that the bereaved do not grieve alone. We say Kaddish as one community during our services so that we grieve together as one community.

As I stood at this vigil, I wanted to say Kaddish for Leslie Feinberg. And I wished fervently that my Jewish community was there with me saying Kaddish for Leslie and all of the transgender people who had died that year.

As I stood there, I thought about intersectionality and allyship. I am a queer Jew who is currently dating another queer Jew. I was partially raised by a gay Jewish Holocaust refugee, who taught me early on that having multiple marginalized identities compounds their effects. Her Judaism was a queered Judaism. She was born in the Dominican Republic, one of the few countries that accepted Jews during the Shoah. She saw herself as a queer Jew of Hispanic background. The spaces she created were ones that reflected and celebrated the fusion of these lived experiences.

“As I stood at this vigil, I wanted to say Kaddish for Leslie Feinberg.” | [Public Domain], via Pixabay

I have spent the majority of my Jewish path as a young adult looking for a holistic Judaism like the one I saw growing up; one that not only affirms but also celebrates and values intersecting identities and the ways they enrich Judaism.

Allyship means showing up for each other and each other’s identities. We recently witnessed the first anniversary of the massacre at Pulse nightclub, and I again found myself mourning with my LGBTQ community, while recognizing this kind of collective grief as one that is deeply familiar and deeply Jewish. I imagine a Jewish community that participates in a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil to say Kaddish for Leslie Feinberg and for all the transgender Jews that that deserve the community’s honor. I imagine a Jewish community that shows up for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, not only for Jewish transgender people, but simply because we recognize the Jewish values inherent in coming together to lift up the names of the lost.

Emily Strauss is a senior at Pennsylvania State University. 

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