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Reform Jews Welcome Transgender Congregants

"SF Pride 2014 - Stierch 6" by SarahStierch - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -

The Union of Reform Judaism released a specific resolution affirming the rights of transgender people.

A few weeks ago the Union of Reform Judaism officially welcomed transgender people to their ranks.

Not that there weren’t transgender Jews before, but the URJ put out a specific resolution affirming the rights of transgender people to be full participants in Jewish life, and calling on Reform congregations to implement changes that will make transgender and gender non-conforming people feel welcome.

Barbara Weinstein is the executive director of Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism told KNPR's State of Nevada that the resolution is in line with the values of Reform Judaism. 

"This is very much an evolution for us," Weinstein said, "And really reflects our values as Reform Jews that we're a welcoming, inclusive community that celebrates the holiness of every person."

The resolution calls for changes to certain pronouns used in rituals and encourages the use of unisex bathrooms. 

Rabbi Malcolm Cohen with Temple Sinai in Las Vegas understands the effort on several different levels not just as a leader of his congregation but also in a personal way, because his brother is transgender.

"I think it is one of the last bastions of diversity that we're still struggling with and so I want to put out the message that... the trans-community is welcome in our congregation," Cohen said.

Cohen said his brother was born biologically female but transitioned to male.

He said even something like what a person wears to synagogue can be traumatic.

"I think it's about trying to raise awareness in our congregation," Cohen said. "So, if someone comes to synagogue, and it's partly a clothing issue, and they're dressed not conforming to a specific gender identity then we just need to raise awareness in congregants that that's okay." 

He said his brother was turned off from Judaism because of those struggles and he believes people who feel like outsiders will also struggle to be part of a religious community. 

Weinstein said it is not just about making sure transgender people feel safe within the synagogue walls, but she believes there is an advocacy role the URJ must play in changing laws to make sure transgender people feel safe everywhere.

"Yes, it is incredibly important what we do in our own congregations but we want our congregates to be safe in the workforce," she said, "So, we can't just look internally, if we care about this issue, we have to look beyond our synagogue walls."


Barbara Weinstein, executive director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism;  Rabbi Malcolm Cohen, Temple Sinai in Las Vegas

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)