#TDoR: Transgender Day of Remembrance

November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance, that honors the memory of those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.

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Transgender Day of Remembrance is observed in late November in recognition of the 1998 murder of Rita Hester. Rita was a highly visible member of the transgender community in her native Boston, MA where she worked locally on education around transgender issues. On Saturday, Nov. 28, Rita was stabbed 20 times in her apartment. A neighbor called the police, and Rita was rushed to the hospital. She passed away from cardiac arrest only moments after being admitted. Almost two decades later, police still have not found Rita’s murderer (or murderers). In 1999, one year after Rita’s murder, advocate and writer Gwendolyn Ann Smith coordinated a vigil in Rita’s honor. The vigil commemorated not only Rita, but all who were tragically lost to anti-transgender violence.

In addition to the vigil, Smith launched the Transgender Day of Remembrance website to recognize and remember those whose lives have been lost to anti-transgender violence. Organizations throughout the world — from Groupe Activiste Trans in Paris to Human Rights Commission of Tel Aviv in Israel to Diritti in Movimiento in Pescara, Italy — have since taken to recognizing the day. Media coverage of Transgender Day of Remembrance often includes documenting lives lost to violence, as well as expounding on the all too frequent harassment, discrimination, and disenfranchisement transgender people experience on a regular basis.



In 2016, there are (so far) 87 (known) cases of transgender people who died in anti-transgender violence. Over 50 of these cases happened in Brazil.

In 2015 there are 90 (known) cases of transgender people who died in anti-transgender violence. 34 of these cases are people who were in their twenties.

Remembering Israeli and Jewish Transgender Victims

Sam Price (Died 2016, New Jersey)

A New Jersey couple has created a support group for transgender young people in memory of their daughter Sam, who died following a suicide attempt on her 21st birthday. Read on JTA

Jonah Berele (Died 2016, Lake Michigan)

Trailblazing trans man Jonah Berele (27) died mysteriously, but his legacy of kindness, generosity and love lives on. On the day he died, Jonah had completed nearly five pages of a letter to author Julia Serano with of a “calm, well-written” response to her book, “Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive,” something Jonah’s mom said he felt strongly about after feeling “rejected” early on by much of the Orthodox community. Read more

May Peleg (Died 2015, Israel)

May Peleg (31), a prominent LGBT activist, was found dead on Saturday in a motel in Jerusalem. She left a suicide note that said “I went to sleep and stopped the pain and suffering that endured for the overwhelming majority of my life,” and detailed instructions on how she wants to be buried. Eventually she got her last wish fulfilled.

A Jewish Dictionary

Contemporary and Jewish Bible terms of gender diversity developed by Ari Lev Fornari in collaboration with Rabbi Elliot Kukla and Rabbi Dev Noily. Courtesy of Keshet.

Contemporary Terms


Transgender or Trans: An umbrella term for anyone who knows themselves to be a gender that is different than the gender they were assigned at birth. Some trans people may have an alternate gender identity that is neither male nor female, and for some people their gender identity may vary at different points in their lives. Some transgender people modify their bodies through medical means, and some do not.

Gender Identity: A person’s inner understanding of what gender(s) they belong to or identify with. This is each person’s unique knowing or feeling, and it is separate from a person’s physical body or appearance (although often related).

FTM (Female to Male): A person who appeared to be – or was assigned at birth to be – female, was raised as a girl, who knows himself to be male, and who wishes to or does live as a male part or all of the time. Some people may also identify as “transmen” or “trans-masculine.”

MTF (Male to Female): A person who appeared to be – or was assigned at birth to be – male, was raised as a boy, who knows herself to be female, and who wishes to or does live as a female part or all of the time. Some people may also identify as “transwomen” or “trans-feminine.”

Intersex: A general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not seem to fit the normative definitions of female or male. Visit www.isna.org for more information about intersex issues. Hermaphrodite is an older term used by the medical community to describe intersex people. It is considered a disrespectful term, because it stigmatizing and does not reflect modern scientific understanding of intersex conditions. If you hear someone use the word hermaphrodite, please let them know that the term ‘intersex’ is preferred.

Gender Nonconforming: An umbrella term that can include anyone whose gender identity, expression, or behavior is outside of social norms of women who are “feminine” and men who are “masculine,” such as butch women, effeminate men, drag queens/kings, fairies, bois, and others.

Queer: 1) An umbrella term used by some to describe lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. 2) A term used to describe people who transgress social, cultural, and sexual norms. 3) Historically and currently used as a slur targeting those perceived to transgress “norms” of sexual orientation and/or gender expression.

Genderqueer: 1) A broad political and cultural identity that includes many (but not all) transgender, trans-sexual, and gender nonconforming people, as well as others who see their gender as falling outside of main-stream norms. 2) People who identify as neither male nor female, both male and female, or who claim an alternate gender identity of their own.

Gender Diversity in Jewish Sacred Texts


Zachar: This term is derived from the word for a pointy sword and refers to a phallus. It is usually trans-lated as “male” in English.

Nekevah: This term is derived from the word for a crevice and probably refers to a vaginal opening. It is usually translated as “female” in English.

Androgynos: A person who has both “male” and “female” sexual characteristics. In the Talmud, the androgynos is understood as someone who both has a penis as well as some female sex traits. 149 refer-ences in Mishna and Talmud (1st – 8th Centuries CE); 350 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes (2nd – 16th Centuries CE).

Tumtum: A person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured. In the Talmud the tumtum has indeterminate genitals. 181 references in Mishna and Talmud; 335 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.Ay’lonit: A person who is identified as “female” at birth but develops “male” characteristics at puberty and is infertile. 80 references in Mishna and Talmud; 40 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.

Saris: A person who is identified as “male” at birth but develops “female” characteristics at puberty or later. A saris is considered male, but has no penis or a very small penis. A saris can be “naturally” a saris (saris hamah), or become one through human intervention (saris adam). This status is also known as a eunuch. 156 references in mishna and Talmud; 379 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.


Tel Avivian teacher Niv Zonis shared on Facebook his dilemma of whether to dedicate a class to May Peleg’s story and talk about Transgender Day of Remembrance. Read on A Wider Bridge

The Growing Importance of Trans Remembrance: Activist Dana Beyer wrote a special post for International Transgender Day of Remembrance, and choseto end it with a prayer from Rabbi Reuben Zellman, called “Twilight People.” Read in the Huffington Post