Transgender Awareness Month: Rabbi Emerita Lisa Edwards’ Speech at LA City Hall

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Good morning…
A new friend of mine, a transgender man named Ariel Zitny, who is studying to be a rabbi, recently wrote a prayer for Transgender Day of Remembrance, and he gave me permission to share it with you today:
A Transgender Day of Remembrance ​Yizkor​: Those Who Died in the Sanctification of Their Names
God full of compassion, remember those whose souls were taken in transphobic violence. People who reflected the tremendous, multitudinous splendor of your creations, who illustrated your vastness through the ever-expanding variations of being ​b’tzelem Elohim​, made in your image. Source of mercy, provide them the true shelter and peace that they deserved in this world.
Nurturing one, comfort all who are mourning. Grant them healing in this hardship.
For those who died by murder, we remember them. For those who died by suicide, we remember them.
We remember their names, their true names, for it is those names that will forever be a blessing.
We remember that their deaths were caused by hatred in our society, and it is upon us to repair this brokenness in our world. May we have the strength to sanction justice, speedily and in our days.
Amen​.
It’s an honor to be with you today, surrounded by these poignant powerful photographs of too many who died too soon, and gathered in this space, this walkway that serves as a bridge between those who rely on government and those who serve in government.
How fortunate are we to live in a city where those in power invite us to visit them, to share our lives (and, sadly, our deaths), to remind them

daily that there is still so much to be done to make our lives, our city, our country, our world what we dream they could be.
In this place —on this bridge, surrounded by these reminders of beautiful lives cut short, and in this time — this month of remembrance and resilience and of thanksgiving, I am reminded of two teachings from Jewish tradition that I’d like to share with you.
One derives from the story that Jews all over the world are studying this week from the book of Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew & Christian Bible.
It is the story of the first time God calls Abraham and Sarah, the patriarch and matriarch of Judaism, saying to Abraham,
“Go forth from your birthplace … to the land that I will show you.”
Some commentators note that the Hebrew words God speaks to Abraham – Lech-lecha — mean not simply “Go forth,” but “go for your own sake.” [Genesis 12:1]
As so often happens, what turns out to be for Abraham’s sake also turns out to be for the sake of many other people as well, perhaps because Abraham also heeded a second instruction God gave him that day:
וֶ ְה ֖יֵ ה ְבּ ָר ָֽכ ה ׃
Veh-h’yeh b’rakha.​ BE a blessing. [Genesis 12:2]
For as the story shows us, “Go for your own sake” does not mean “go alone”
nor does it mean “go only for yourself.”
Today I think of all the transgender and gender non-conforming people who venture forth from their “birthplace” to become their own true selves and in so doing become blessings to others.
The second teaching this ​bridge​ reminds me of comes from an 18th century Jewish sage, Rav Nachman of Bratslav. His teaching is often quoted as:
“All the world is a very narrow bridge, ​gesher tsar meod,​ and the important thing is not to be afraid.”
But what he really wrote was this:
“When a person must cross an exceedingly narrow bridge, [the general
principle and] the essential thing is not to frighten ​yourself​ [at all.]”1
Today I think of all the people who overcome fears of all sorts in order to be
their truest selves.
Friends, may we continue our journeys — over narrow bridges and through wide open spaces — overcoming our fears by coming together in common struggle and staying together as companions and friends, bringing
blessings…being blessings…to each other and the world.
1 shelo yit-paheid k’lal.
[k’she-adam tzarikh la-avor gesher tzar m·od, ha-k’lal v’ha-ikkar shelo yit-paheid k’lal. As the official Breslov ​translation​ puts it in its translation of Likutei Moharan (II:48)]

but as the story shows us, “Go for yourself” means neither “Go, by yourself; go alone” nor does it mean “Go only for yourself.”
And if all that isn’t enough to connect you forever to Abraham and Sarah, an obscure (but getting less obscure thanks to queer Jewish scholarship as well as the internet) passage of Talmud surely will. In tractate Yevamot 64b, amidst a discussion of the mitzvah of parenting, “Rabbi Ammi stated: ‘Abraham and Sarah were originally of doubtful gender [tumtumim – a person whose gender cannot be determined]. . .And Rabbi Nahman in the name of Rabbah ben Abbuha [adds]: ‘Our mother Sarah was incapable of procreation…she had not even a womb.’” We could of course study this strange little commentary in detail, but for now let’s notice two things: one is that these Rabbis of the Talmud claim that the progenitors of the Jewish people – our first patriarch and matriarch – were of indeterminate gender, and two, they seem completely unperturbed by this idea. Could they be more matter-of-fact here? One of the favored translations these days of lech-lecha (or the feminine form lechi-lach) is “go for your own self,” “go, for your own sake,” but as the story shows us, “Go for yourself” means neither “Go, by

yourself; go alone” nor does it mean “Go only for yourself.” Indeed, while traveling through Torah can become an unexpected journey of self-discovery, it’s lovely to remember that the journey is deeper, more fulfilling, more revealing when we take it with friends and companions – old and new
Since I first heard it seven or eight years ago, I’ve appreciated the name Arthur Slepian gave to this organization, A Wider Bridge, playing on the famous phrase attributed to Rav Nachman of Bratslav: “All the world is a very narrow bridge, gesher tsar meod, and the important thing is not to be afraid.”
Yes of course, i thought, if it’s the narrowness that makes us afraid, let’s widen the bridge —not only is it less scary if there’s room to pass when you come face to face with someone going the other way, but let’s make it possible for us to walk across not single file but side by side, arm in arm, maybe even like at the octopus convention: arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm…you get the idea.
But I’ve also sometimes wondered what Rav Nachman could have meant really, by “do not be afraid.” Ever? Of anything? That’s hardly human.

So I was relieved to discover recently that I’m not the only one who questioned this, and one of my colleagues [Rabbi Daniel Pressman] reports that what Rav Nachman actually wrote was: “When a person must cross an exceedingly narrow bridge, the general principle and the essential thing is not to frighten yourself at all.” shelo yit-paheid k’lal.
[k’she-adam tzarikh la-avor gesher tzar m·od, ha-k’lal v’ha-ikkar shelo yit-paheid k’lal. As the official Breslov translation​ puts it in its translation of Likutei Moharan (II:48)]
Friends, may we continue to come together, on narrow bridges and in wide open spaces, overcoming our fears by coming together in common struggle and staying together as companions and friends, bringing blessings…being blessings…to each other and the world.

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