What getting dressed up in the High Holy Days means for some trans & queer Jews
Mom called to wish me luck the night before. “What are you wearing?” she asked. I described what I had planned — a dress, something simple. “You could also wear pants, you know,” she reminded me. That wasn’t me anymore. Dressing up for the Jewish High Holidays is surprisingly nuanced and complicated. Dress clothes and formalwear are part of the story, but queer, non-binary, and transgender Jews often find further significance in their choice of outfit and style.
After two years of addressing my Boston congregation on the High Holidays, I gave my first sermon that year as a woman. My debut and Rosh Hashanah celebrating a season of growth and change was an obvious connection to me, and I chose to address it directly.
Rosh Hashanah means “Head of the Year,” and this year is the 5776th since the proverbial creation of our universe. The tradition of wearing your best clothes makes the High Holidays unique, starting with Rosh Hashanah and culminating 10 days later on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Like its secular counterpart, Rosh Hashanah is a time of new beginnings; we try to present ourselves fittingly. The outfits can be as diverse as the congregants.