A Rabbi of Many Colors

Rabbi Becky Silverstein took the time during a recent trip to Israel to discuss his process of defining his gender identity, why he hasn’t chosen to change his name, why it was important for him to marry a Jewish woman and the replacement text he has chosen for the daily blessing thanking God ‘for not creating me a woman.’

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Rabbi Becky Silverstein of Pasadena, California, has become intimately familiar with the routine. It happens every time he shows his passport before boarding a flight.

“I have nothing personally against the ground crew. It’s their job to check and double check,” he says. “But I still haven’t gotten used to it. The agent carefully reads the name ‘Becky’ and then raises his or her eyes and looks directly at me. ‘Excuse me, if you are a female, why are you wearing a kipah? And why are you wearing tzitzit? And if you’re indeed a rabbi, then what’s with the female name?’ A million questions… I mean, aren’t they meant to perform their jobs quickly so as not to delay the rest of the line?”

It sounds unpleasant.

“Of course it’s unpleasant, but it’s not awful. And every time I get home from the airport, I just push the passport to the back of the drawer and don’t think about it until the next flight.”

Well at least in English you’re safe from the Hebrew distinction between male and female verbs.

“That’s true. But in English we have a similar problem when speaking in the third person. So the first thing I always say when I start a conversation is ‘My name is Becky, and I respectfully ask that you refer to me as a male.’ I am not ‘she’ but ‘he.’ And it’s important to me, as it is to other people in my demographic, that this not be viewed as an issue of semantics, but an issue with real meaning behind it. And if someone refers to me in the feminine, I politely correct them. Everyone can make a mistake; everyone is human.”

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