Rabbi Becky Silverstein and Beyn Kodesh L'Chol in the news
Writing Our Own Torah: Talking Spirituality and Transgender Inclusion with Rabbi Becky Silverstein
June 2016 edition of The Slice
For many people, the onset of summer camp season is a reminder to arm your kids with bug spray, get that Sharpie out to write their names on the insides of their collars and acquire cherished care package fixings. For Rabbi Becky Silverstein, the Education Director at Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center and the first transgender rabbi hired by a Conservative congregation, the season means something a little different: it’s represents an opportunity to keep chipping away at alienating binary gender distinctions in the Jewish community and beyond. These distinctions have broken down significantly in recent years, but sometimes rise to the fore during summer camp season, when application forms pose that age old, arguably irrelevant question: M or F.
Rabbi Becky Silverstein: Whole Self Movement
December 15, 2014, Guernica
The first thing you learn about Rabbi Becky Silverstein is that despite the “Becky,” he uses male pronouns. Upon meeting him, you might see what he calls “a female-bodied person” wearing clothing typically associated with men: jackets, slacks, a snazzy tie. That Becky is a “he” is the occasion for a small instant of cognitive dissonance. For Rabbi Silverstein, it’s appropriate that this moment is generated first in language, as that’s how his own process of identifying as a genderqueer person began, during conversations with mentors at the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in Newton, Massachusetts.
For Silverstein, it’s also fitting that gender identity begins with semantics, because the work of a rabbi is one of active engagement with the rich canon of Jewish texts. The Torah, as well as the countless scholarly commentaries about it, wrestles deeply with the problems of language. A rabbi must embrace such debate, parsing differences in meaning between Hebrew and English, as well as between ancient cultural conceptions and modern ideas. In Silverstein’s view, conversation is a crucial tool for contemporary American Judaism to fully recognize, understand, and welcome transgender Jews into the community, starting with the same talks the nation is having about gay and transgender rights, as well as women’s equality. All of these battles for inclusion, he argues in the interview that follows, are linked: “Misogyny is at the root of all homophobia and transphobia. It’s no surprise that a movement that still struggles with the place of women would also struggle with the place of LGBTQ-identified folks.”
How To Hire a Trans Rabbi
November 6, 2014, My Jewish Learning
For the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center (PJTC), hiring Rabbi Becky Silverstein as their Education Director just made sense. A recent graduate of Hebrew College, Rabbi Silverstein brought the knowledge, the passion, and the training that the position required. He won over the board, the staff, and the community.
What made things just a little bit complicated was the fact that Rabbi Silverstein is transgender—and one of the very few openly transgender rabbis in America.
Keshet has talked with Rabbi Silverstein before to get his perspective on the learning curve associated with being, as a rabbi, a public transgender figure. For Rabbi Silverstein, “As a person who identifies as trans and genderqueer and whose pronoun (intentionally) creates dissonance with my name, I try and remember that those whom I am encountering may be going through their own process. This requires approaching everyone with compassion and an ear to understanding where they are so that I can respond appropriately.”
First openly transgender rabbi was hired by a Conservative synagogue in California
“It’s hard to quantify these things,” Silverstein said, but, he added, he believes he is one of the first trans-identified rabbis affiliated with the Conservative movement.
“I’m really excited about being open and out, and being a role model,” Silverstein said.
When he was being pursued for the position at PJTC’s Louis B. Silver Religious School, Silverstein said, “They listened and made an issue of it [only] in the right ways.”
Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater and executive director Eitan Trabin were especially proactive in welcoming Silverstein into the PJTC family.
“I want to sing their praises,” Silverstein said.
“This is a shifting and interesting time in the Jewish community, and I think Rabbi Silverstein is going to help us transition in ways that are forward-thinking,” Grater, head rabbi at PJTC and a longtime advocate for LGBT issues, said.