By Paul Kalt
translation by sophie
It is because of my Jewish heritage, that I have for a while now been contemplating my Jewish culture and religion. Recently, I decided to pay a visit to the local Synagogue. The first visits went by without any complications. The rabbi took me in with open arms and younger parishioners introduced me to the procedure of the service. The following incidents happened on the day, that I decided to out myself as a trans man. Because I did not have sex reassignment surgery and dress feminine on special occasions, it is not very obvious which gender I relate to. On this specific day a new rabbi than the one before was present at the service.
I am as nervous as the first time. Intimidated and confused my eyes dart over the waiting crowd in the entrance area. The fluted cup filled with coke slips through my hands. The plastic crinkles. I am trying to become invisible behind a newspaper.
„Hello! Who are you? Are you here for the first time? Where did you leave you`re kipah? Did you forget it?“
The child is approximately 5 years old. Excitedly it jumps up and down in front of me.
I have to smile to myself, but try to keep composure, arraying my black skirt.
Imagining the man next to the entrance being this child’s father, I reply: „I have been here three times alreay. Maybe you were not here then. I am a woman!“
„No way! You are lying!“
„No, just wait, I will be going up with the other women once the service starts.“
I don’t want to overwhelm the child, I’m thinking.
At the very same moment I get angry about this compulsion to assimilate.
Trying to find the right passages in the book, I am sitting up front, in between two elderly women.
Listening to the familiar sounds of the rabbi’s melody, I am entering a trance, feeling like I have arrived.
The child is looking up to me, whisper-shouting: „You are wrong up there!“
The pleasant feeling vanishes in an instant. What am I doing here? I am on the fence, but finally remain seated.
After the service the parish gathers in the neighboring hall of the synagogue. The table has been set and after the prayer the glasses are lifted.
„Boys don’t have things like that.“
With a serious face the child examines the rings and bracelets on my hands. „Or are you actually a women??“
With eager eyes and an impish grin he looks up to me. The mother of the child puts her forefinger on her lips: „Shhhhhhh.“ (It is forbidden to speak before the meal.)
„Well“, I open my mouth to speak, as the napkins are lifted. Fishbread and cakes appear underneath them. I turn to my neighbor as I am a bit embarrassed now of the unclear image I am projecting on the child.
„You are just right, I am not a women.“
The child smiles proudly.
„I knew it!“
„But now I have to ask you a question as well, after you have been pestering me all this time. So, why is that you think that men cannot wear things such as rings or necklesses?“
„Hmm“, the kid spots a lonely ring in my right ear.
„Oh ok, well, actually you are just wearing one earring, like boys do.“
In connivance we focus on the delicacies on the tables.
It doesn’t take long until the child wants to share his newly gained news about me.
„I am sitting next to a boy, a boy“, it reveals, high-voiced, the happy news to the rest of the group.
The relatives intend to intervene, admonishingly.
„Ruben, please leave the woman alone.“
„But its true, he said so himself!“
„Be quiet! This is nothing to joke about.“, his father rebukes him softly.
„S_he is certainly right“, I accede.
The rest of the group is looking mesmerized now. Some have to chuckle.
The rabbi approaches the source of turmoil with big steps.
„Who is this girl there? Is she new?“ He asks a person, who just shoved a big piece of trout in his*her mouth.
I feel compelled to make a move and get up hastily.
„Paul, hello. I am not a girl.“- I introduce myself, trying to extract my most graceful countenance.
The rabbi ignores my hand and instead uses his own, wide spread hands, to throw them up over his head in despair. His kipah almost falls off his head.
„That just can’t be true!“
Broad laughter, shaking heads. One person speculates that this could all just be a play.
I am trying to make myself heard. The blood is boiling in my temples.
„There is a saying among us jews“, the rabbi explains.
„We say: Can black people change their color of skin?! So, how can it be true, what you are telling me?“
„That goes without saying, there is no need for a discussion!“, another member of the parish exclaims. „Exactly. The women are sitting up front, and the men are sitting down here,“ the rabbi reckons, „so tell me, who are you?“
My face frowns.
I don’t have to put up with this, I think.
„A good day to you, Shabbat Shalom.“ I leave the hall.
In retrospect I think, that the conversation with the child was very valuable.