Online Education

In New York, a transgender yeshiva teacher forced to leave

BROOKLYN, New York – A transgender woman resigned this week from her teaching job at an Orthodox Jewish school in New York City after a scandal surrounding her identity.

Teacher Talia Avrahami was harassed last week and on Friday agreed to leave her position at the Magen David Yeshivah in Brooklyn.

“It’s sad to see how much some people want to hurt,” Avrahami said Times of Israel. “Maybe my whole life is ruined. It is a very difficult moment. »

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The school let her know that she was not a suitable candidate for the social affairs class.

Religious Jewish school, or yeshiva, sent an email to parents last weekend saying, “Please note that a substitute will be teaching social studies starting Monday, September 19th. »

“We have a lot of respect for this teacher, from whom we parted by mutual agreement, amicably and professionally,” the school said Times of Israel.

Avrahami regretted not being able to provide details on the circumstances of his departure.

The case has been widely discussed in public online forums of religious Judaism in New York.

Avrahami was asked to leave just days after the traditional “parents’ night,” an event where parents meet teachers.

One of Avrahami’s parents filmed and posted a video that quickly went viral and sparked many conversations about his identity. Some have stated that Avrahami was a man posing as a woman.

Avrahami was taken to task, online and in her everyday life. She was attacked on social media and community sites posted articles with accusatory headlines. She received anonymous threatening messages: her phone and social network details were shared online.

“They published photos of my family, where we live. We received death threats. They came to film our house,” he says.

Someone filmed her leaving her home with her husband and toddler daughter on Friday before she posted the video online.

Some videos of Avrahami as a man disguised as a woman, rather than a transgender person, have since been removed from the platforms.

Illustrative: The 10th annual Trans Day of Action in New York, June 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

According to her, the “agitators” discovered photos of Avrahami from the time when she presented as a man, which they published together with current photos with her husband and child.

She adds that the harassment she has recently been subjected to has nothing to do with the situation she encountered at school. Until the last few days, she did not have to regret any major incident related to her identity.

It all started when a few weeks into the school year, a student deleted the “s” from “Mrs. Avrahami [Mme Avrahami] on the sign of his name to be “Lord Avrahami [M. Avrahami] “. At this stage, it is not possible to determine whether it was a joke or whether the student wanted to emphasize the transgender identity of her professor. Magen David Yeshiva quickly condemned the incident and reminded students that this type of behavior is unacceptable, she recalls.

Before the controversy, “everything was fine and now nothing is going well,” he confides.

Avrahami and her husband, who did not grow up in an Orthodox environment, devoted years to education within their community. A family friend who supports them in the controversy calls the Avrahamis “hardcore Haredi” – ultra-Orthodox – and adds that they strictly adhere to the community’s traditions in matters of dress, among other things.

This friend makes it clear that being transgender within this religious community is itself a gender affirmation because certain conventions are clearly defined.

“There are so many clothes and behaviors of a frum woman that can represent positive experiences,” declares this friend, who uses a Yiddish word to describe religiosity. “She ticks all the boxes – the skirts, the hair. She worked very hard to make the transition a success. »

Talia Avrahami with her husband and their daughter. (Courtesy)

The couple are members of the Jewish community in Washington Heights, Manhattan, which supports them as a whole, Avrahami said. She and her husband regularly attend the synagogue and organize Shabbat dinners.

She points out that young people in the Orthodox Jewish community supported her at the height of the controversy. The Washington Heights community is younger overall, he adds, which for some evokes the existence of a “generation gap.”

“It reinforces the conviction I already had, namely that children represent the future,” she confides. Young Orthodox Jews “supported me without blinking an eye.”

“They are the future of Orthodox Jews,” he adds. “Of course there is a place for transgender people in Orthodox Jewish communities and in halakhah,” she said.

An online petition in support of Yeshiva University’s LGBTQ community, also beset by controversy, has garnered 55 pages of signatures.

Avrahami and her husband, both born in the United States, met while studying in Israel and came to New York to take classes at Yeshiva University. Avrahami, who already has a master’s degree in Jewish education, is continuing his studies part-time to earn another degree in Jewish history.

It was a family friend who also works in education who helped Avrahami get the job at Magen David at the end of the summer.

The friend in question has asked that her identity be withheld for privacy reasons, as the issue is very divisive in the community.

“She has every right to work at a Jewish school,” says her friend, who dismisses rumors that Avrahami wanted to be fired so she could file a complaint. He talks about the time and money invested in adapting to this lifestyle and preparing for the teaching profession.

“Talia spent many years becoming a frum woman, teaching in a yeshiva,” says a friend. “All she wants is to be allowed to live her life as a woman. »

“She spent so many years to become this person and today everything is brutally taken from her,” she regrets. “He deserves, like everyone else, to be part of the Jewish community. »

Illustrative: A man walks past a bus stop with a Yiddish sign in Borough Park in Brooklyn, New York on January 1, 2014. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“I’m a transgender Orthodox Jewish woman, just as there are redheaded Orthodox Jewish women,” Avrahami said. “It wasn’t a problem before this case: I didn’t really think about it. »

“For me, it’s not an important aspect of my identity, and it shouldn’t be for anyone. »

Avrahami has decided to have a lawyer represent her, but she doesn’t know where the case will lead her.

New York law protects employees from discrimination or harassment based on characteristics such as gender identity or expression.

On Zev Brenner’s talk show, noted attorney Alan Dershowitz suggested that the Magen David and Yeshiva University cases fall under religious freedom within the educational system.

“These are complicated, very complicated issues, and justice must be done. Justice must be the same for everyone,” he said.

“If it’s a person who is transitioning from one gender to another, they will be more protected than if they were secretive. »

He thinks Yeshiva University and Magen David could win their case in court, admitting they have too little evidence in Avrahami’s case.

The radio show presented the case as “the shooting of an Orthodox man impersonating a woman in a Brooklyn yeshiva.”

Family friend decries school and community controversy.

“Both the community and Magen are guilty of telling him and all trans people: You are not welcome.” What does it say about us that only certain people are worth loving? asks a friend. “They are normal people trying to live a normal life. »

“A lot of people were extremely mean,” he laments.

“Some wanted only one thing, to destroy her life. »

This new controversy adds to the already busy news yeshiva of New York, criticized for the lack of secular content taught to students. In addition, LGBTQ rights within the community have come into focus since Yeshiva University in New York vetoed the creation of a Pride Club on campus. The Orthodox New York University then banned all student clubs so as not to have to approve the establishment of an LGBTQ organization. The university appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. Conservative judges made it clear that the university could appeal again after exhausting all lower appeals and that it was “likely to win”.

(Avrahami said her and her husband’s life revolved around Yeshiva University for the past few years, and Yeshiva University “has been great to us.”)

Last week, New York state officials approved rules that will now govern secular education in non-public schools, after a years-long battle over curriculum, period, a major rift for New York’s haredi communities.

These new rules were approved after an investigation New York Times indicated that yeshiva collected hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds while providing poor secular education and some even inflicting corporal punishment on their students.

The investigation seriously shook New York’s religious community: community leaders, politicians and yeshiva advocates criticized the newspaper for unfairly attacking Jewish schools.

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