Dear TEE community,

This week marks Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), as well as the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and I have been both wondering and worrying about our contemporary circumstances in light of those events. William Faulkner famously said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” and it’s difficult not to hear echoes of the early twentieth century in the current news. As anti-democratic strategies increase within American legislative bodies and women’s basic health needs are restricted, I can’t help but be concerned about what constitutes the tipping point in the potential loss of America’s governing principles of representation, freedom, and civil rights.

On a personal level, as the parent of a transgender person, the most disturbing thing right now is the hatred and vilification being directed at transgender individuals, especially children, in our country. In local, state, and national legislatures, laws have been passed, or are being considered, to restrict the rights of transgender individuals, particularly in areas such as healthcare, education, employment, and access to public accommodations. These laws are often based on discriminatory beliefs and misinformation about transgender people and their experiences.

Transgender individuals already face significant challenges in accessing healthcare, employment, and housing, among other areas. Anti-trans legislation further exacerbates these challenges and can lead to discrimination, harassment, and violence against transgender people. For those of you reading this who are not trans, imagine the language currently being used about transgender people being applied to Jews and how outrageous and hurtful that would be.

As we learned from the Shoah, the demonization and dehumanization of a group of people based on their identity can lead to violence, discrimination, and other forms of harm. American Jews should be concerned about anti-trans legislation, not only because transgender people are part of our families and community, but also because it represents a threat to the principles of equality and justice that are fundamental to our democracy. Discrimination against any group based on their identity is a violation of our shared values and threatens the safety and wellbeing of all members of society.

Furthermore, the impact of anti-trans legislation extends beyond the transgender community. When one group is targeted and denied basic rights and protections, it sends a message that discrimination and hate are acceptable. This can embolden others to engage in similar acts of discrimination and hatred against different minority groups.

Our history teaches us the dangers of remaining silent in the face of injustice. In his book, On Tyranny, Yale professor Timothy Snyder emphasizes the need to speak up to oppose anti-democratic forces. In this moment, I encourage you to use your voice to support transgender individuals and to oppose any laws or policies that seek to limit their rights and freedoms. Keshet, a national organization working for LGBT equality in Jewish life, has provided a link to contact your legislators about proposed laws. Keshet’s website also provides numerous resources for learning more about how to support trans people from a Jewish perspective.

We can take pride in the fact that our TEE community includes transgender people who have found a welcoming community. Let us all do what we can to extend that experience of sanctuary into the wider world.

Rabbi Drorah Setel