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Abby Chava Stein

Biography

Abby Chava Stein, born October 1, 1991, was nurtured in the Hasidic Jewish  tradition by her parents in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her large family lived in a Hasidic  community, which is a traditional Jewish group that avoids involvement with   contemporary society. Abby was the sixth of thirteen children and spoke only Yiddish  growing up. She wore the traditional clothes of the Hasidic sect. Her family roots to the  tradition run deep, as she is directly related to Baal Shem Tov, who founded Hasidic   Judaism. Abby was a curious child and her questioning led her to become labeled  “enlightened,” which was unfortunately not a compliment at the time in her community.  

When Abby was a teenager, an Israeli rabbi proposed she look into Kabbalah, a  more mystical Jewish tradition. In studying, she started to absorb the thought of gender  as fluid instead of fixed. She had long felt her truth inside her, but being raised in the traditional faith community where her truth was denied had left her without knowledge or  the words to express it. She followed her Hasidic family’s tradition and was married at  18, soon becoming the parent of a son. She began to question things again, teaching herself English on YouTube. 

In 2011, at age 20, Abby obtained her rabbinical degree from Yeshiva. A yeshiva  is an orthodox Jewish learning center dedicated to the examination of Rabbinic literature. However a year later, Abby decided to leave life as a Rabbi to venture out into the world, with the help of an organization called Footsteps. According  to their website, Footsteps is the solitary organization in North America that arranges in-depth services and programs to those who have chosen to leave their ultra-Orthodox  communities and restart their lives anew. “Based in New York with remote offerings nationally, Footsteps provides a range of services, including social and emotional   support, educational and career guidance, workshops and social activities.”  (footstepsorg.org). The process of of leaving the ultra-Orthodox world is commonly  called “off the derech”, or OTD. There is a website that explains it from the newly self-determined point of view, at offthederech.org. They “embrace the notion there is no one true Derech” (or path, or way). Instead each follows their own path.   

In 2015, Abby came out as “a woman of trans experience.” She did so publicly, due largely to the environment of her upbringing in the Hasidic community. In these communities, trans people are not recognized. Strict gender roles are assigned and adhered to. “Forget separate roles; men and women aren’t even supposed to interact,”  Abby disclosed of the Hasidic community she was raised in. Abby revealed her true self  to the world in order to inspire and uplift others who may face the same obstacles. A Google search names her in many articles as the first trans person to come out from an ultra-Orthodox community, which is incredibly brave. Her bravery has led to profiles in  nearly every major news outlet, from CNN to Huffington Post. 

Another way Abby works to inspire and uplift others is through an organization  called Transfaith. Transfaith is a transgender persons-led nonprofit organization.  Their website states they “are a multi-tradition, multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-generational organization working to support transgender spiritual/cultural workers and  their leadership in community. We work closely with many allied organizations, secular,  spiritual, and religious, transgender-led and otherwise.” (transfaith.info).  

In addition to working with Transfaith, Abby works with the Women’s March. The Women’s March added three Jewish women to the steering committee in 2019, following backlash concerning how anti-Semitism had been handled by members. Abby was vocal amidst the controversy, stating anti-Semitism discussions should  include her in the room. Such statements likely compelled the Women’s March to add  her as well as Jewish activists Yavilah McCoy and April Baskin. Yavilah is “the founder of a not-for-profit that provided materials to better educate and advocate for Jews of color.” April’s previous position was with the Union of Reform Judaism, which is the  largest Jewish denomination in the nation. She referred to herself there as “the vice-president of audacious hospitality” (forward.com). Abby was obviously in good company with her fellow additions to the committee. She still remains active in the  Women’s March organization.  

Abby has also used her powerful voice in Jewish protests against ICE and multiple protests following the murder of George Floyd. Although she is involved in many Jewish spaces which include LGBTQ people, she is not satisfied with their continued limitations. “All of these communities, even the ones as progressive as they are, they  still follow a very set tradition.”  

In order to create more spaces aligned more closely with what she was longing for, Abby co-founded the Sacred Space at the Wing in Brooklyn, which is a “multi-faith forum for women”. Sojourners magazine profiles the space and refers to it as “a multi-faith refuge.” They meet every month, on the first Sunday. It simultaneously serves as a safe space for women who have abandoned their faith traditions and as somewhere they can be inspired to change their traditions from within. Sexism, homophobia, racism, and anything exclusionary is strictly prohibited. You can also find the group on  Facebook, entitled Sacred Space at the Wing. They hold multiple events there and have many inspirational speakers and activities.  

Abby has written her own story, along with all the interviews she’s given.  Published in 2019, the book is called Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman. She has stated she hopes to keep writing.

As a Jewish educator, writer, speaker, and activist, Abby has truly accomplished a  great deal and has led an inspirational life already in her 32 years. I especially enjoyed her quip in Sojourners after speaking on the biblical relationship between Ruth and  Naomi: “If you ask me, everyone is the Bible is queer.” By continuing to use her powerful voice, many will continue to be seen, be helped, be able to come fully into who  they are.  

(This biographical statement was written by Elle Walsh for a Queer & Trans Theologies class at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities from the sources cited above.)

Biography Date: December 2023

Tags

Jewish (ethnic, Reform, Reconstructionist, Orthodox) | Jewish (Orthodox) | Activist (religious institutions) | Author/editor | Trans activism | Trans Faith | Women and Religion | Racism

Citation

“Abby Chava Stein | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed May 30, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/abby-chava-stein.

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