Welcoming a new Jewish woman

Welcoming a new Jewish woman

Leslie Farber says the best part about the ceremony naming her, formerly Eliezer Zachariah, as a Jewish woman, Aliza Zahava bat Chava v’Aharon, was hearing the emotion in her mother’s voice as she blessed her.

"Bless my daughter Aliza Zahava, O God," Evelyn Farber of River Vale began to pray for her daughter, the daughter who had been born to her as a son exactly 50 years earlier. "May you bestow upon her the qualities of nobility, beauty, strength, and gentility…. May she reach into the future, soaring forward as a woman whose soul was, and always will be, that of a magnificent human being….".

Farber’s second most favorite part was the sight and sound of her guests stomping on wrapped glass at the end of the ceremony, then shouting "Mazal tov!" marking for her both a break with the past and the stamping out of discrimination.

The ceremony was written and initiated by Steven Goldstein, a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, who consulted with rabbis and checked into texts and online for help developing it. The simcha noted "the Jewish tradition of adopting a new name to reflect one’s evolution — Avram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah" and, in its Hebrew sections, used the feminine form of the language (see related story).

In an e-mail, Goldstein said a lot of water imagery was used "to evoke a mikveh, but also as a metaphor for Miriam, the greatest Jewish woman prophet and a symbol of strong Jewish women everywhere."

As part of the ceremony, in which a minyan of women participated, Farber was seated on a "Miriam’s Chair." Each member of the minyan sipped from a Miriam’s cup, before reading lines from the following prayer (Farber read the last line):

"You can hear the song rising in you.

It is time to sing it aloud.

Yes, to sing a new song

Is to close one’s eyes and dive into unknown waters.

For a moment you know nothing, risking all.

But then you discover the waters are friendly

And the ground is firm.

And out of your mouth

Come words lifting the wind.

And you hear for the first time

The song that has been in your heart,

Silent for years.

It’s the song you sing loudly now,

The song you sing with joy.

It’s the sweetest song we’ve ever heard

Because it is your song,

The song of a woman we love,

The song of your truest soul."

Goldstein said he found the prayer, which he rewrote slightly, on www.ritualwell.org, "a Website filled with wonderful new rituals by Kolot, the Center for Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies at the college. Other parts of the ceremony also were based on — but again, I rewrote — some of the wonderful passages I saw on Kolot."

The ceremony included the Shehecheyanu, Hebrew songs performed by opera singer Marybeth Hazel, kiddush, and a blessing for Farber and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex community:

"Nevarekh et Eyn HaKhayim asher natna l’Aliza Zahava haotzmah latzet min hamaitzrim." "Let us bless the source of life for giving-Aliza Zahava the courage to come out. May she always rejoice in the womanhood that she affirms today. May Aliza Zahava’s courage be a shining example to all who yearn to live as the gender that God instilled in their hearts. May today’s ceremony inspire all of us to work more diligently towards the day when transgender people, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and the intersex will not suffer from prejudice and discrimination, when all who dwell on earth will live in peace and wholeness within themselves."

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