So, did you hear the one about the Chabad Rabbi and the liberal transgender woman rabbi? Those in Olympia did...
Through a confluence of events, of late I have found that my two homes for Jewish community and Tefillah (Hebrew)/ Davenen (Yiddish) / Prayer, are, in Olympia The Chabad Jewish Discovery Center and in San Jose Ca, Congregation Sinai. In both of these amazing places, I have found loving acceptance by their respective rabbis and communities.
I had a connection with Congregation Sinai growing up, but due to events beyond my control, that was short-lived. However, when my mother, Barbara Matlow Z”L was diagnosed with Lung Cancer, I became reacquainted with Sinai, the new Sinai, as my home away from home. They created a cocoon around me during those trying years, and after her passing; most recently as I observed Rosh HaShannah and my mother’s first Yahrzeit (memorial year).
I returned to Olympia for Yom Kippur and Sukkot, closing out a very exhausting, difficult and also rewarding Holy Day season. When I was forced to leave mid-day on Yom Kippur and unable to return the rest of the day due to my pain situation, I received only love and compassion from the rabbi and congregants.
On Sukkot, however was the most amazing event, I thought. Rabbi Yosef Schtroks had previously worked with me on some writings I had done surrounding Jewish Law and Gender Identity. So I already knew he was supportive. But, on the First Day of Sukkot, what a wonderful thing!
The rabbi made an announcement that I thought needed an update, so I raised my hand, and said my piece and he acknowledged it. In a private moment in the Sukkah, I apologized for seeming to argue with him during the service. His reply was that he always welcomes correction from anyone in the congregation, and he was grateful I spoke up. We talked about things a little, and I made a self-deprecating comment.
I stated that I always had tough questions and comments, because, after all, I am a rebellious one. His reply? “What are you talking about?” I’m standing there in my dress with my purple hair, and I say “look at me”. His reply was that it’s what is in my heart that counts. Further, he stated that he really appreciated having me around because it gives him an opportunity to delve into Torah.
I seriously doubt that most transgender people can find such acceptance in an Orthodox congregation, but within the limitations of Halakha, I have found that I am completely welcome and always able to participate and contribute to the services and learning environment. This really makes it a special place for me.
Further, Rabbi Schtroks participates in the Ruderman-Chabad Inclusion Initiative www.rcii.org. By the door to his shul is a label with this logo, and a description of the efforts to be inclusive. This is geared towards disability inclusiveness.
However, I found an additional meaning in the logo. On the label by the door, the colors are pink and light blue, on a white background. This invokes the colors of the transgender pride flag.
Further, the logo of the RCII bears the infinity sign. When applied to gender, I see this as recognition of welcoming of people of all genders, binary and non-binary, at this Chabad house. I have seen any number of people there who might fall under this umbrella, and Rabbi Yosef welcomes everyone with a smile, and an offer of hospitality.
Keshet, as an organization, works for inclusion of LGBTQ in the Jewish Community. Chabad of Olympia lives it!
While in my heart I wish I were in a bigger city, with a larger synagogue like my home in San Jose, I am very happy and proud to call The Chabad Jewish Discovery Center of Olympia my spiritual home.