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Joy Ladin

A Report by Brianna Jackson, '16

While Joy Ladin may have become famous for being the first openly transgender professor at an Orthodox Jewish institution, the depth of her faith may be her most far-reaching accomplishment. Ladin was always very close to God, but her struggle with her gender threatened to be her downfall. "The man part of me wanted to die," Ladin said, "but the woman part of me wanted to live." When she finally decided to live as her true self, Joy Ladin was finally able to connect her body with her spiritual and religious practice.

Some Jews struggle with trusting a higher power, but Ladin had no trouble developing this relationship. To trust a disembodied God, one must put aside their yearning to have to see something for it to be real. When Ladin looked in the mirror, she never felt that her body matched up with her spirit, so placing faith in a bodiless God was not a problem for her. She imagined God must be in a similar situation; God’s all-powerful yet intangible spirit could not be confined within a physical body. "We hung out because neither of us had bodies," Ladin joked as she discussed her personal covenant with God.

Although her relationship with God was always her bedrock, Joy Ladin felt disconnected from the other members of the Jewish community. As an academic, it was hard for her to be taken seriously among her colleagues who were not religious because there was often a misconception that one could not be both religious and intelligent. Identifying as both Jewish and queer was also difficult because these could be such conflicting identities.

Through her work with Keshet and by telling her story, Joy Ladin is searching for ways to create more inclusion for LGBT people within religious spaces. When I asked her about how people who deviate from gender norms or heterosexuality grapple with religions that are thought to be more conservative, she told me that oftentimes, they need to create their own place in their religion. Without any past examples of people like themselves to turn to, Joy and others preach tolerance by worshipping in communities despite adversity. "Only God can judge," Joy says, and with her faith strengthened by the gratitude for complete expression of her soul, she proclaims the goodness of God.