Ramona Hernandez-Perez, 65, a Black-Mexican-transgender rabbi and native Chicagoan, studied in Jerusalem for six months through a joint effort by the Leo Baeck Institute and Hebrew Union College.
Hernandez-Perez, who also was a researcher at Northwestern University, had side gigs as a freelance photographer for Ebony, Jet, the Windy City Times, and the Chicago Defender, often taking pictures of civil rights demonstrations. Her work now as a rabbi is accomplished through a mission she started called the Abyssinian Reform Hebrew Congregations.
“I came up with ‘reform’ as a word meaning liberal, not so much the position of reform Judaism. I’m more like an independent scholar. I’ve been a second-class citizen in all kinds of aspects. For me, it’s different from what others had to go through. You know how hard it is for women and especially women of color and trans women. So I had to forge my own path to ordination,” says Hernandez-Perez, who studied in Jerusalem for six months through a joint effort by the Leo Baeck Institute and Hebrew Union College. She has certificates in Jewish spiritual healing, is a para-chaplain, and was ordained by Universal Ministries so that she can perform marriages.
As part of her mission, she serves as an advisory board member for the Howard Brown Health Center, which exists to eliminate the disparities in health care experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through research, education and the provision of services that promote health and wellness.
“I try to minister to LGBTQ people and say you’re not a mistake because God doesn’t make mistakes,” said Hernandez-Perez.