New York yeshiva asks transgender teacher to leave amid outcry over her identity

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BROOKLYN, New York — A transgender woman quit her teaching job at an Orthodox Jewish day school in New York this week, after an outcry over her identity.

The teacher, Talia Avrahami, faced widespread harassment last week over the matter and on Friday agreed to quit her job at Magen David Yeshiva in Brooklyn.

“It’s sad to see that some people want to derail our lives,” Avrahami told The Times of Israel. “We wonder if our whole lives are ruined or not. It’s hard.”

The school told her that she was not a good candidate for the social studies course.

The religious Jewish day school, or yeshiva, emailed parents over the weekend, saying: ‘Please note that starting Monday, September 19, your child will have a substitute teacher for social studies “.

“We respect this former instructor and, by mutual agreement, parted ways in a friendly and professional manner,” the school told The Times of Israel. Avrahami said she could not discuss the details of her resignation.

The incident was widely discussed in the online public forums of New York’s religious Jewry.

Avrahami was asked to leave a few days after the school’s “parents’ night”, when parents of students come to school to meet teachers.

One of the parents apparently filmed Avrahami introducing himself and the video quickly spread online and in group chats, fueling controversy, with some accusing him of being a man posing as a woman.

Avrahami has since been targeted online and in person. She was attacked on social media, community sites published articles with accusatory headlines and she began to receive harassing messages from strangers, as her phone number and social media accounts circulated.

“They post pictures of our family, they post where we live, we get death threats. They kind of took videos outside of our house,” she said.

Someone filmed her leaving her apartment building with her husband and baby girl on Friday, then uploaded the clip.

Some of the reports depicted Avrahami as a man disguised as a woman, not a transgender person, and have since been deleted.

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

“Agitators” unearthed photos of Avrahami from when she still identified as a man, she said, and posted those photos alongside current photos of her with her husband and wife. child.

She said the bullying campaign was somewhat separate from the situation at school. Until the last few days, she had not had any major incidents related to her identity at work.

A few weeks into the school year, one of her students went to the blackboard during a lesson and erased the “s” where she had written “Mrs. Avrahami,” causing the sign to read “Mr. Avrahami. He doesn’t It was unclear whether the student was targeting her for being transgender or joking with a friend, and Magen David was quick to condemn the incident and tell the students it was unacceptable, she said.

Before the recent controversy, “everything was fine, and now it’s not,” she said.

Avrahami and her husband were not raised in Orthodoxy and dedicated years to education and community. A family friend who helped her deal with the controversy described Avrahami as “hardcore Haredi,” or ultra-Orthodox, and said she strictly adheres to community traditions when it comes to dress and other customs. .

The friend said being transgender in the religious community can actually be gender affirming because certain conventions are clearly defined.

“There are so many specific ways of dressing and behaviors of a frum woman that can be a positive experience,” the friend said, using a Yiddish word to indicate religiosity. “She ticked all the boxes – skirts, covering hair. She went above and beyond to go through the transition process.

Talia Avrahami with her husband and daughter. (Courtesy)

The couple are members of the Washington Heights Jewish community in Manhattan, which has been overwhelmingly supportive, Avrahami said. She and her husband regularly attend synagogue and hold Shabbat dinners.

She also said younger members of the Orthodox Jewish community have been supportive since the controversy erupted. The Washington Heights community is predominantly younger, she said, noting a “generational gap.”

“It kind of reinforces a lot of the views that I had before, in that children are the future,” she said. Young Orthodox Jews “were determined to support me.”

“It is the very future of Orthodox Jews,” she said. “There is absolutely a place for transgender people in the Orthodox Jewish community and in halakha,” or Jewish law, she said. An online petition in support of Yeshiva University’s LGBTQ community, also beset by controversy, has racked up 55 pages of signatures.

Avrahami and her husband, both Americans, met while studying in Israel and moved to New York to pursue studies at Yeshiva University. Avrahami has a master’s degree from the university in Jewish education and is studying part-time for another degree in Jewish history.

The family friend, who also works in education, helped Avrahami find a job at Magen David at the end of the summer. She asked not to be named for privacy reasons because the issue is so incendiary in the community.

“She has every right to work in a Jewish day school,” her friend said.

The friend dismissed rumors that Avrahami was planning to be fired and take legal action, pointing to the years and expense she had invested in adopting the lifestyle and training for become a Jewish teacher.

“Talia spent years of her life becoming a frum woman, teaching at a yeshiva day school,” the friend said. “All she really wants is to pretend to be a woman and live her life.”

“Years of his life becoming that person to have everything taken away from him,” she said. “They deserve to be part of the Jewish community like anyone else.”

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

“I am an Orthodox Jewish woman who happens to be transgender, just like there are Orthodox Jewish women who have red hair,” Avrahami said. “Before this whole incident, it wasn’t even something I thought about much.”

“I don’t consider it a giant part of my identity and no one else should.”

Avrahami has hired a legal representative, but it’s unclear where the case will go.

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

On the Zev Brenner talk show, prominent attorney Alan Dershowitz said the Magen David and Yeshiva University cases both involved religious freedom in the education system.

“These are complicated and complicated issues, and justice must be fair. Justice must be equal for all,” he said. “If it’s a person going from one gender to another, they’re probably going to be more protected than if they were engaging in actual cheating about it.”

He predicted that Yeshiva University and Magen David would win court cases, but said he didn’t know enough about the Avrahami case. The radio episode describes the case as “an Orthodox man posing as a woman in a Brooklyn yeshiva who was fired.”

The family friend condemned the school and the community for the controversy.

“The community and Magen are all complicit, telling him and trans people, ‘You’re not welcome.’ And what does that say about us, that only certain people can be loved?” the friend said. “They’re just normal people trying to live their normal lives.

“Hundreds of people assume nefarious intent,” she said. “The bad guys cared enough about him to ruin his life.”

Controversy comes as New York’s yeshivas are already criticized for a perceived lack of secular education, and LGBTQ rights in the community are in the spotlight as New York’s Yeshiva University tries to block recognition of a Pride club on campus. (Avrahami said her and her husband’s life has revolved around Yeshiva University for the past few years, and said the university “has been great with us.”)

New York state officials last week finally approved rules that will regulate secular education in non-public schools, after a years-long battle over the curriculum that is a major point of contention for haredi communities in New York.

The new regulations were approved after a New York Times investigation found that yeshivas receive hundreds of millions of dollars in public funding, provide dismal secular education and some inflict corporal punishment on students.

The investigation has rocked the faith community in New York, with community representatives, The politiciansand other yeshiva advocates accusing the newspaper of unfairly targeting Jewish schools.

Also last week, Yeshiva University, New York’s flagship Modern Orthodox university, banned all student clubs because it seeks to avoid recognizing an LGBTQ group. The university appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case, but conservative justices said the college could try again after exhausting other appeals and would “likely win.” “in front of the highest court in the land.

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