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My rabbi was super cool about it: why I had a gender-neutral b'nai mitzvah

[A touching story that I just had to post. Not sure that all rabbis, whether here in Israel or elsewhere around the world,would support Ruby Marx, nevertheless it shows that at least one rabbi is open minded and understanding of Trans issues.]

Instead of a male or female coming-of-age ceremony, one Jewish teen decided to do ‘something in the middle’. She explains why. Ruby Marx, as told to Molly Langmuir

Ruby Marx at her B mitzvah, wearing a rainbow tallit with Joan Jett on the back. ‘If I had been forced to have a bat mitzvah I wouldn’t have wanted it as much.’ Photograph: Courtesy Pamela Joye.

There was never any question that Ruby Marx, a 13-year-old from Massachusetts, would have a Jewish coming-of-age ceremony. But while the event is traditionally delineated by gender – boys have bar mitzvahs and girls have bat mitzahs – Ruby decided instead to have a gender-neutral ceremony known as a B mitzvah or b’nai mitzvah. At the ceremony, the rabbi’s blessing for Ruby included these words: “Keep bringing your full self to the world. The world needs people that don’t shy away from their true self; we will always be there for you.” Here is Ruby’s story, as told to reporter Molly Langmuir: I was three when I started dressing in a more masculine way. I don’t feel like a boy, but I don’t feel like a girl either. And the way I’ve expressed my gender has always been supported. My family knows I’m going to be masculine and still use female pronouns and just experiment. I talk to them about everything. All my grandparents know too. People sometimes mistake me in bathrooms, but it hasn’t been a big problem. At my school, there are definitely other kids in my grade who are playing with gender. And there are kids who are gay, like I am, and bi. They’re all very accepted. Judaism is a big part of my family – we keep kosher and my older sister had a bat mitzvah, so I knew I would have to have one too. But I didn’t want to be called a girl, which is a traditional part of the ceremony. And I didn’t want a bar mitzvah either. I wanted something in the middle. My mom read about B mitzvahs in an article, and once she told me about it I decided that was what I wanted. My rabbi is the best rabbi and she loves me, so she was super cool about it. And the community as a whole was really accepting. Basically, I had a regular bat mitzvah, but we just changed the name, and in the service the words “bar” (son) or “bat” (daughter) were never used. For my project, I had a benefit rock concert the weekend before (synagogues sometimes require a project with a social action component as part of the event). I started playing guitar a little over a year ago – my mom actually used it as an incentive to help me learn how to sing the Torah – and my passion is classic rock so I played lots of covers, like Joan Jett’s I Love Rock ‘n Roll, which is my favorite song in the world right now, and Celebrity Skin by Hole. I donated the money I raised to Girls Rock Campaign Boston, which runs a camp I went to last summer. It’s pretty open, so you can be trans and non-conforming, and there were lots of women there who were strong and powerful and also super musically talented, kind of like Joan Jett. I actually met her last September. My dad took me to see her concert for my birthday and we went to the back of building and she rolled out of a car and said hello to everybody. It was the best moment ever. She’s definitely an inspiration for me. For my B mitzvah, I wore a blue suit and a silver tie with black boots that were like rip-off Doc Martens, but fancier. I looked sharp. And I wore a tallit [prayer shawl] that had rainbows on the ends, with lots of rock‘n’roll patches and Joan Jett on the back – we went to this sewing place and the guy printed out a picture of her on fabric that we sewed on. For the party, my sister got to put some songs in the playlist so there some music by people like Lizzo. I like Lizzo, too. I love a boss. And there was a lot of classic rock. It was a big dance party. Afterwards, I was happy and tired but also a little sad that it was over. I had so much fun. I was the first person at my synagogue to have B mitzvah. If I had been forced to have a bat mitzvah I wouldn’t have wanted it as much. It would have felt like I was just going through the motions. I wouldn’t have been able to be myself as it was happening. My dad asked me how I’d have responded if I’d had to wear a dress. I don’t even want to go there. I would have cancelled the entire thing. I do not wear dresses.


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