Written by Rabbi Claudia Kreiman
Every year, I am honored to sponsor a few candidates for conversion. As a rabbi, accompanying a person on their path into Judaism is one of the most profound experiences I encounter. I learn from candidates, from their questions and struggles. Their perspectives and experiences enrich my own and open me to new discoveries.
When Trish came to my office for the first time and asked me to sponsor her in her conversion process, I did not know the new insights I would gain from this experience. From the beginning Trish showed a serious commitment to the Jewish tradition and to finding a practice based on tradition and observance that would allow her to become closer to the Divine and to the community. As we started to get to know each other, Trish shared her life, her struggles, and the fact that she was a transgender woman. She knew, perhaps better than I that we would need to discuss the many implications of gender identity on the way Judaism welcomes new people into the covenant. I told Trish that this was new territory for me, and that I felt grateful for the opportunity to discover the questions and some of the answers in the context of her conversion.
As a Conservative-trained rabbi, and because this was new for me it was very important for me to do as much research on this topic as possible, and to study the Jewish texts that deal with questions of gender identity and gender change. I had access to several teshuvot (Halachic responsa) that dealt with Jewish views on the gender status of a transgender person and with the factors that determine gender. I spoke with colleagues to learn from their experiences, but the most powerful part of this process was learning this material together with Trish. We studied together, we grappled with hard questions together, sometimes we laughed together and sometimes we cried.
Trish’s conversion was a powerful experience. Two memories have lingered with me since then. One was when my two colleagues that joined me in the Beit Din and some family and friends of Trish and myself were standing in the atrium of the Mayyim Hayyim, “listening” to Trish’s immersion. The sound of the water was so profound, so clear. It was as if Trish did not just immerse herself in the water but jumped profusely and profoundly into the water with Ahava and Yir’ah, with love and awe. The other was after the immersion, as Trish walked away ready to be welcomed by us as a Jewish woman. She was dressed all in white the way we dress on Yom Kippur, the way we dress on a wedding day and the way some dress on Shabbat – radiant and ready for this new stage on her life.
As a rabbi, I felt blessed for the possibility of learning in partnership. Engaging in this conversation with Trish, immensely influenced my own halachic process. It reminded me the teaching “Lo bashamayim hi” – Torah is not in heaven. Torah is here, in earth, for people to learn, to struggle with and to live by it.
Rabbi Claudia Kreiman is Temple Beth Zion’s associate Rabbi. Originally from Chile, Rabbi Kreiman was ordained at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. One of the first places she visited when she came to Boston for the first time was Mayyim Hayyim, and she loved it.