Written by Trish Soha
חנה בת אברהם ושרה, Chana Bat Avraham v’Sarah
I had imagined my conversion mikveh immersion at least three times a day for the year or so between my Pathways to Judaism class’ tour at Mayyim Hayyim and the actual event—that’s over a thousand imagined dunkings, if you’re counting – and none of my imaginings matched the beauty, physicality, spirituality and emotion of the actual experience.
Some of my friends, who are in recovery from substance abuse, who are Jewish and are also gay, refer to themselves as triply-blessed. By that measure, HaShem was especially kind to me: in recovery, lesbian-identified, now newly Jewish, and pre-op transgender male-to-female, all just a couple of years from my sixtieth birthday. For almost two years that list included “almost Jewish” instead of “newly,” as I attended shul, attended Pathways to Judaism classes, and met and worked with my sponsoring rabbi, Rav Claudia Kreiman of Temple Beth Zion on Beacon Street in Brookline. I had chosen Rav Claudia as I understood that she was a Masorti/Conservative rabbi who followed halacha and was one of a few listed as Keshet Rabbis and LGBT-friendly.
When I say I worked with Rav Claudia, you must know that Rav Claudia did all of the heavy lifting. We had been meeting for a few months before she asked about, as she called it, “my history”. Soon Rav Claudia was spending months wrestling with defining and understanding the implications of a transgender woman who desired to become an halachic Jew while still pre-op (that is to say, male-bodied)—and I nearly fell out of my chair when she thought to thank me for the opportunity.
The warm water of the mikveh surprised me (I had of course removed my glasses and without them I have no depth perception) and I nearly dunked inadvertently before letting in the living waters. Thank goodness my mikveh guide Lisa had calmed me—first by making eye contact and then by resting her hands on my shoulders before taking my sheet—so I was able to smile at my missteps. Seconds later I nearly dove into the water and it took me a few moments to find the surface, but as I did I burst into tears as I realized I could finally say the bracha. I was a Jew.
As a transgender person and lesbian, I have gotten used to gatekeepers, people who are trained, authorized and paid to say “No.” I approached a new spiritual community and asked a woman the age of my eldest daughter to be my spiritual advisor, not knowing what to expect. Much to my surprise the keepers of the sha’arei (gates) both at shul and the mikveh were really, truly there to welcome me home.
Trish is a middle-aged Jewish woman in recovery. She is divorced and has two daughters, a granddaughter and grandson. She prays daily for refuah shleimah for her sister who has been given a 50-50 chance of surviving cancer that was diagnosed just weeks ago, and is grateful for the home and framework that Judaism has given her, and that makes prayer accessible to her.