Our Shared Vision
We rearranged the seats in the chapel to integrate the Zoom screen into the circle. We expanded our circle so everyone could fit in a single row. A small vigil became an intimate gathering as we could look around and see the faces of everyone present, in person or online: Trans Jews coming together to commemorate Trans Day of Remembrance. Punctuated with spaces of silence, we set a somber tone for our service.
Even with the space rearranged, we knew there was more we could do to make our service accessible and immersive. Ariel and Ze’evi shared a glance between them, and Ze’evi began to softly play guitar. Looking around the group gathered, Ariel voiced how hard it can be to open yourself up to express tough emotions, to let yourself go and let your voice be heard. He encouraged those present to “unmute,” whether literally unmuting themselves on Zoom or figurately unmuting in person by singing out loud. There may be some cacophony, he acknowledged. Zoom has a lag, and some of the melodies may be unfamiliar, but by joining together and raising our voices as one sacred community we can feel the power of our collective voice.
Ariel looked back at Ze’evi and they each took a breath to pause in the moment. Those present instinctively also took a slow breath as they sat in the heavy silence. Softly, Ze’evi began to sing. Understanding that not everyone knew the songs or could pick up music quickly, Ze’evi started with a wordless niggun. Motioning with their hands the shape of the melody, and then repeating it, Ze’evi taught the song until everyone felt comfortable enough to add their own voice.
Our hearts swelled as we heard the cacophony we had anticipated. The vigil was a tapestry of full-voiced singing, silence, and emotional readings offered by those present. Amidst the tears were moments of connection and comfort, moments made possible by the intimate experience we had crafted.
As a spiritual leadership team, we are strengthened by our shared values of accessibility, collaboration, and innovation. We believe Judaism should be participatory. This means making sure that we recognize barriers to entry and work to dismantle them. We believe that Jews of all backgrounds and connections to Judaism deserve to be able to be full participants in Jewish community and Jewish life. It is our job as clergy to make our communities accessible to all.
We believe in the power of collaboration. While Ze’evi is a masterful musician and composer, and Ariel a creative writer and storyteller, we each have our own passions outside of our distinct clergy roles. Ariel is passionate about reshaping how we interpret traditional text and belief, and Ze’evi is passionate about making liturgy inclusive and resonant. Both of us have a background in education and bring our love of teaching to our work. We have co-led numerous classes and events, sharing the responsibilities of crafting material and leading. Our comfort with each other translates into our work, bringing an air of comfort to those around us. Seemingly effortlessly, our unspoken communication allows us to work together fluidly and spontaneously.
As some of the first trans students at HUC-JIR, we have each been pioneers in our time as clergy students. Being a pioneer isn’t easy, but together we have helped build a culture of inclusion and respect at HUC-JIR on the Los Angeles and New York campuses. While there were only two trans rabbis before Ariel and no trans cantors before Ze’evi, now there are a dozen trans students at HUC-JIR and this number continues to grow. The changing demographic of trans clergy students is a part of our legacy.
As pioneers, we are comfortable with newness. We understand the importance of diplomacy and gentleness when guiding communities through a culture shift. We are brave enough to set out on a path no one has walked before, always striving to bring others along with us. Throughout our journeys, we have never been alone. We have grown together, strengthening each other like vines intertwined. With shared vision, collaborative natures, and ease of communication, we are able to build intimate and intentional spaces to share the feelings of comfort and safety that we give each other.