Online Education

Transgender yeshiva trainer compelled to go away in New York

BROOKLYN, New York. This week, a transgender woman quit her job as a teacher at an Orthodox Jewish school in New York following a scandal involving her identity.

Teacher Talia Avraami was harassed last week and on Friday agreed to leave her post at the Magen David yeshiva in Brooklyn.

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

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She was told at school that she was unsuitable for social studies classes.

Religious Jewish School, or yeshiva, emailed his parents this past weekend: “Please note that from Monday, September 19, a deputy will be teaching social issues. »

“We have great respect for this teacher, with whom we parted ways in an amicable and professional manner,” the school said. Israel Times.

Avraami regrets that he cannot give details about the conditions of his departure.

This case was widely discussed on the public Internet forums of religious Jews in New York.

Avraami was asked to leave a few days after the traditional “parents’ evening” when parents meet with teachers.

A parent filmed Avraami and posted a video that went viral very quickly and sparked a lot of talk about his personality. Some have pointed out that Abraham was a man posing as a woman.

Avraami has been challenged both online and in everyday life. She was attacked on social media, and articles with accusatory headlines were published on community sites. She received anonymous threatening messages: her phone and social media details were widely circulated on the Internet.

“They posted pictures of my family where we live. We received death threats. They came to rent our house,” she says.

Someone filmed her leaving the house with her husband and young daughter on Friday before posting the video online.

Some videos that show Avraami as a man dressed as a woman rather than transgender have since been taken down from the platforms.

Image: NYC’s 10th Annual Transgender Action Day, June 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

According to her, the “agitators” found photos of Abraham when she introduced herself as a man, which they posted along with current photos with her husband and child.

She adds that the bullying she’s been subjected to lately has nothing to do with the situation she faced at school. Until the last few days, she had not had to regret a single serious incident related to her personality.

It all started with the fact that a few weeks after the start of the school year, a student erased the letter “c” from “Mrs. Abraham.” [Mme Avrahami] on a sign of his name to make him “Mr. Abraham [M. Avrahami] “At this stage, it is impossible to know if this was a joke or if the student wanted to highlight her professor’s transgender identity. The Magen David Yeshiva was quick to denounce the incident and remind students that such behavior is unacceptable,” she recalls.

Before the scandal, “everything was fine, but now everything is going wrong,” she admits.

Avraami and her husband, who did not grow up in an Orthodox environment, devoted themselves to education in their community for years. A family friend who stands by them in the face of controversy calls Avraami “hard-core Haredi” – ultra-Orthodox, adding that she adheres strictly to the community’s dress code, among other things.

This friend explains that being transgender in this religious community is itself a gender statement because certain conventions are clearly defined.

“There are so many clothes and things a Frum woman can do that can evoke positive emotions,” says this friend, who uses a Yiddish word to describe religiosity. “She meets all the requirements – skirts, hair. She worked very hard to make this transition a success. »

Talia Avraami with her husband and daughter. (Courtesy)

The couple are members of the Washington Heights Jewish community in Manhattan, which generally supports them, Avraami said. She and her husband regularly attend synagogue and have Shabbat dinners.

She notes that young people from the Orthodox Jewish community supported her in the midst of the argument. She adds that the Washington Heights community is generally younger, leading some to believe there is a “generation gap.”

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

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

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

Abraham and her husband, both born in the United States, met while studying in Israel and came to New York to study at Yeshiva University. Abraham, who already has a master’s degree in Jewish education, continues to study part-time to earn another degree in Jewish history.

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

The friend in question requested that her identity not be disclosed for privacy reasons, as the matter is highly divisive in the community.

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

“Thalia spent many years becoming a Frum woman teaching at a yeshiva,” says a friend. “All she wants is to let her live her life as a woman. »

“She spent so many years to become this person, and today everything was cruelly taken from her,” she regrets. “She deserves, like others, to be part of the Jewish community. »

Illustration: 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 am a transgender Orthodox Jew, just like red-haired Orthodox Jews,” Avraami said. “Before this incident, it was not a problem: I didn’t really think about it. »

“For me, this is not an important aspect of my identity and should not be for anyone. »

Avraami has decided that she will be represented by a lawyer, but she does not know where her case will lead.

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

On Zev Brenner’s talk show, prominent lawyer Alan Dershowitz suggested that the Magen David and Yeshiva University cases fall under the scope of religious freedom in the education system.

“These are complex, very complex issues, and justice must be done. Justice must be equal for all,” he said.

“If a person passes from one sex to another, he will be more protected than if he were in hiding. »

He believes that Yeshiva University and Magen David could win the case in court, while admitting that they have too little evidence in the Avraami case.

The broadcast presented the case as “the dismissal of an Orthodox man posing as a woman in a Brooklyn yeshiva.”

A family friend denounces the controversy fueled by the school and society.

“The community and Magen are guilty of telling him and all transgender people: “You are not welcome here.” What does it say about us that only certain people are worthy of love? a friend asks. “These are normal people who are trying to live a normal life. »

“A lot of people were extremely malicious,” she laments.

“Some wanted only one thing, ruin her life. »

This new controversy adds to the already busy news for yeshiva from New York, criticized for the lack of secular content taught to students. In addition, LGBTQ rights in the community came under the spotlight after Yeshiva University in New York vetoed the establishment of a pride club on campus. Then the Orthodox University of New York banned all student clubs in order not to sanction the creation of an LGBTQ organization. The university filed an appeal with the US Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. The conservative judges clarified that the university could appeal again after exhausting all lower avenues of appeal and that it would “probably win”.

(Avrahami said that for the last few years, her life and her husband’s have revolved around Yeshiva University, and Yeshiva University has “been treating us very well.”)

Last week, New York State officials approved rules that will now govern secular education in private schools, after years of fighting over the curriculum, a period of major contention among New York’s Haredi communities.

These new rules were approved following an investigation by The newspaper “New York Times pointed out that yeshiva collected hundreds of millions of dollars from public funds while providing poor secular education, and some even subjected their students to corporal punishment.

The investigation severely shocked New York’s religious community, with community representatives, politicians and yeshivot advocates criticizing the newspaper for unfairly targeting Jewish schools.

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