Teen Gender Transition at a Jewish Day School

Thirteen-year-old Tom Sosnik, wearing a tallit and holding a kiddush cup, marked a transition into manhood with a special ceremony at his Jewish day school. He wasn’t celebrating receiving a first prayer book or a first Bible, or graduating from one grade to another. He wasn’t really observing his bar mitzvah, either. In what was a decidedly nontraditional event, the short-haired teenager was publicly marking his gender transition from girl to boy.

Sosnik’s Jewish ritualized coming out as transgender in front of classmates, teachers and family at the Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito, California, is believed to be the first time that a Jewish day school has sanctioned and performed such a ceremony.

“We’ve noticed more gender-expansive students in our school, and in Jewish and independent schools in general,” said Tehiyah interim head of school Elise Prowse.

Rabbi Tsipi Gabai, the school’s rabbi and director of Jewish studies, took into consideration the high rate of suicide and suicide attempts among transgender individuals (one study put it as high as 41 percent) when deciding to work with Sosnik and his parents on crafting the content of the ceremony. “I take what is said in the Talmud, that when one saves a single soul it is as if one saves the whole world, very seriously,” the rabbi said.

When asked whether she had any concerns about her child transitioning at such a young age, Tom’s mother, Esti Sosnik, said she had no doubt about Tom’s gender identity. “I have no worry about his making this decision at 13. I am so happy for him to live the right gender for him.”

While acknowledging the societal risk Tehiyah’s leadership took in performing Sosnik’s transition ceremony, Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network commended the school for being “a safe, warm, accepting place that accepts children for who they are.”


From Renee Ghert-Zand in timesofisrael.com, March 26, 2015.