Religion and Gender Identity: A Conversation with Abby Stein

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The conversation surrounding religion and gender identity is one that is actively being discussed on college campuses today. For students at the University of California, Davis, this topic provided a unique opportunity to bring together members of the Jewish and LGBTQ community. 

On February 13th, David Project interns and TRANSitions, an LGBTQ organization on campus, co-hosted an event with Abby Stein around this important issues. Abby's story highlights her upbringing from a very unique background. She was born in 1991 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, and was one of 13 children born to a Hassidic family. In fact, Abby herself is a direct descendants of the founder of Hassidic Judaism, the Baal Shem Tov. 

The most important element of her story is the moment she reclaimed her identity within a stream of Orthodox Judaism. Abby Stein is the first openly transgender women to be raised within the Hassidic community, while also being the first transgender woman to have been ordained by an orthodox institution, and receive a rabbinical degree. Throughout this conversation, Abby's story highlighted her struggle of leaving the orthodox community, reclaiming her identity, and providing support for others who begin this transition from a similar religious background. Her unique story provided an opportunity to discuss her difficult relationship between Judaism and her transgender indentity . 

 Members of the Jewish and LGBT communities in attendance for a conversation with Abby Stein

Members of the Jewish and LGBT communities in attendance for a conversation with Abby Stein

"The focus of this event was to find a way to initiate dialogue amongst the Jewish and gay communities. said Daniel Vainish, National Student Board Member for The David Project.  As  an intern at UC Davis, Daniel saw tremendous potential to bring the Jewish and LGBTQ communities together on campus. By bringing Abby Stein to campus, he saw an opportunity for common ground between both communities and the values they care about. "Abby Stein provided a candid depiction of struggles many in the LGBT community face regarding religion. I think when looking at how so many students were surprised to learn about Abby's story, they started to think about these issues in a different light."  

 Daniel Vainish addressing the crowd at the opening of the conversation with Abby Stein

Daniel Vainish addressing the crowd at the opening of the conversation with Abby Stein

As Daniel reflected on the event, his hope was that Abby could really shed light on similar issues that both communities are facing. "A goal for this event is to really raise insight into what it's like to be trans and Ultra-Orthodox Hassidic. We wanted to really spark a discussion on the intersection of religion and sexuality that is pertinent to so many people, yet rarely discussed amongst the campus LGBT community." According to Daniel, it was Abby's personal upbringing that really allowed for this conversation to happen. "Abby was able to provide a personal narrative for what being trans in the Jewish community is like. When students hear this kind of message and see the issues she has dealt with, it allows for us to create an open conversation around this important issue." 

As the Jewish and LGBT communities at UC Davis look beyond this important event, Daniel sees tremendous potential to build upon this discussion, and further spark collaboration. " I really hope this start to strengthen the relationship between the Jewish and LGBT communities for a stronger working relationship between the two." We're incredibly proud of these amazing students at UC Davis for building bridges and creating genuine connections across campus communities!

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