Connect with us


‘I wanted to be more me’: Teens propel a trend toward gender-neutral mitzvah ceremonies

This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with Jewish teens around the world to report on issues that affect their lives.

(JTA) — Like many Jewish teens, Ash Brave was nervous for their b’nai mitzvah. Memorizing the Torah portion, sending invitations, planning a party: It’s a lot for a 13-year-old to think about during what can already be an anxiety-filled age. 

Despite the typical stress involved with preparing to enter the adult Jewish community, Brave cheerfully described their gender-neutral b’nai mitzvah last summer, recalling feeling “really supported [by] the whole synagogue.” For teens like Brave, an eighth grader from Boulder, Colorado who uses he and they pronouns interchangeably, gender-inclusive b’nai mitzvahs (often termed “b’mitzvahs”) offer an opportunity to come of age as their full selves. 

Across the country, there is an expanding list of Jewish community centers, day schools, Hillels, organizations and more that include and celebrate LGBTQ+ identities. Many synagogues are following suit with the ceremonies they offer and the language they use. Some congregations are initiating these changes on their own; in other cases, the teens themselves are propelling the shifts. 

Traditionally, most synagogues hold gendered b’nai mitzvah, with bar mitzvahs for boys and bat mitzvahs for girls (“b’nai” is the Hebrew plural form meanings “sons and daughters,” although it is technically masculine). Increasingly, many Jewish congregations are moving towards gender-inclusive b’nai mitzvah ceremonies. Synagogues like Har Hashem, a Reform synagogue in Boulder, have been offering these ceremonies for years at the request of their congregants. Because of these shifts, many gender nonconforming Jewish teens feel a deeper sense of belonging in their religious communities. 

According to Rabbi Fred Greene of Har Hashem, the synagogue holds approximately 25 b’nai mitzvah ceremonies annually. In the last year, three of those were gender-neutral. Although the congregation has offered the option for almost five years, this is the first year they have had teens opting for the inclusive version. Greene said that the congregation also has teens who have transitioned after their b’nai mitzvah. He estimates that they have 5-7 teen congregants who identify as trans or genderqueer, meaning they do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. 

B’mitzvahs at Har Hashem mirror the traditional gendered ceremonies in everything but language. “We have folks that don’t feel like a ‘ben’ or a ‘bat,’” said Greene, using the Hebrew words meaning “son” and “daughter.” “So we come up with other Hebrew terms, [such as] ‘beit,’ which is from “the house of [parent name].” He said that a number of changes can be made to the Hebrew to increase inclusivity, ranging from the creation of new terms to using the infinitive version of words that would otherwise be gendered. “We’re not treating anybody any differently, other than being sensitive to their needs,” he said. 

Ruby Marx, a 16-year-old who uses she/her pronouns, had a gender-neutral b’mitzvah with Temple Beth Zion in the Boston area in early 2020, pre-pandemic. “I always knew that I was gonna have to have [a b’nai mitzvah]. But when it came time to start thinking about it, I was like, ‘I really don’t feel comfortable having a bat mitzvah.’ But I wasn’t comfortable [having a bar mitzvah], either. So someone suggested that I do something in the middle. And that felt right for me.”

Marx, who describes herself as gender-fluid, was the first teen in her congregation to have a ceremony that didn’t fall within either the bar or bat categories. In the years following, several other teens in her community have had gender-neutral ceremonies, including one having an upcoming ceremony in mid-March. 

“I don’t think anyone else had done something like that before,” said Marx. “I think a lot of other kids started to feel comfortable being like, ‘oh, maybe that’s something I would want to do,’ or incorporating different things that they’re passionate about [into their ceremonies].” 

For her ceremony, she wore a prayer shawl featuring rainbow trimming and various rock n’ roll patches from her favorite bands. Marx said that the most rewarding part of her experience has been being a trailblazer for inclusion in her congregation. “It definitely feels good to know that I can help other kids feel comfortable being who they are, because I know that sometimes I’m not always comfortable being who I am. It’s nice to know that kids can look up to me,” she said. 

Gender inclusion in b’nai mitzvahs has been expanding for decades, beginning with the American introduction of the bat mitzvah in 1922 for the daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionism, in New York City. Before that, only boys were allowed to engage in the important coming of age tradition. After Judith Kaplan’s ceremony, the custom slowly spread across the country in non-Orthodox synagogues. For decades, however, the ceremonies for girls differed from those offered to boys: In many synagogues, girls were not allowed to read from the Torah, and their services were held on Friday nights rather than Saturday mornings. Orthodox synagogues were slow in accepting the bat mitzvah, and still maintain strict gender roles in synagogue.

Ruby Marx playing the guitar during a benefit concert they held for their mitzvah project. (Courtesy Pamela Joy Photography).

As feminism progressed both outside and within Jewish communities, girls pushed to be allowed to read from the Torah and to be counted towards a minyan, the 10-person quorum required for public prayer. Full bat mitzvahs became an accepted norm. A similar pattern is now occurring for b’mitzvahs. 

As a coming of age ritual, b’nai mitzvahs occupy a unique role in Jewish life. Their goal is to integrate young Jews into the broader community, signaling that they have the knowledge and maturity to take on adult ritual responsibilities. Because of this, many young trans Jews wish to have a ceremony that will fully reflect them as they become more involved in their community and beyond. 

Brave, the Colorado teen, chose to have their ceremony gender-neutral to ensure it still fit them down the road. “I don’t really know what I’m going to identify as in the future, because identity is fluid. And while I may be comfortable right now with being closer to a male identity, [later] I might be less comfortable with that,” they said. 

Marx, the gender fluid teen outside of Boston, said entering the community as her authentic self was an integral part of her choice. “I had grown up watching all my cousins, and then my sister, have [ceremonies]. Afterwards, they were a lot more independent in their Jewish identity. That was something that appealed to me, because I wanted to be connected to the Jewish community, but I wanted to do it in my own way,” said Marx. 

B’mitzvahs aren’t the only gender-inclusive ceremony offered now. Many Reform congregations have also created ceremonies for gender transitions, Hebrew name changes, and coming out, often based on a curriculum offered by the Central Conference of American Rabbis. “These are holy moments of growth and transformation, and we want to be supportive in their journeys,” Rabbi Greene of Har Hashem said. Brave also had a ceremony with Har Hashem to change their Hebrew name, and the synagogue made them an updated yad — a pointer used in reading Torah — to match.

Teens who were not able to do their ceremony gender-neutral say having access to inclusive ceremonies would have increased the enjoyment and meaning of their b’nai mitzvahs. “I would have felt more like I was stepping into my own skin, instead of the skin [of someone] that I was pretending to be,” said Mica Newmark. The 17-year-old, who uses they/them pronouns, had a gendered ceremony at Nevei Kodesh, a Renewal synagogue in Boulder, before coming into their identity more. Since their ceremony, Newmark has grown apart from religion. “I don’t really relate anymore,” they said. 

Even teens who were more clear on their identity struggled with having gendered ceremonies. Jay, a 15-year-old from Boulder, came out immediately following their ceremony. (Jay, estranged from a parent who has a leadership role in their synagogue, asked that their last name be omitted.) They found the ceremony “pretty stressful” and their coming out experience difficult, explaining that they wanted everyone to understand the concept of existing outside of the gender binary, but didn’t feel that was possible at the time. “I had really long hair then, so I wanted to cut it, and just be more me,” Jay said. “But I was really stressed, because I knew I was going to get misgendered at the ceremony.” 

Keshet publishes a guide to “design and support affirming b’mitzvah celebrations.” (Keshet)

In the following years, Jay helped to institute the use of pronoun pins at synagogue events, as well as generally making an effort to educate community members on transgender issues. “I think [gender-neutral ceremonies] allow queer Jewish people to embrace their religion and continue to flourish within Judaism without feeling gendered,” they said. 

Keshet, a national Jewish LGBTQ+ organization, published a guide for b’mitzvah ceremonies. “Celebrating the Age of Mitzvah: A Guide for all Genders” includes information from what to call the ceremony to what the dress code should be, all aimed at helping communities create inclusive and meaningful traditions. 

The need for the resources came from synagogues and young congregants, said Jackie Maris, the Chicago education and training manager for the organization. “It’s not just Jewish boys and girls becoming Jewish men and women, it’s Jewish kids of all gender identities becoming Jewish adults,” said Maris. “Having a tool that helps guide everyone through that process, with gender-expansive language and rituals that include folks beyond the binary, is very needed.”

Keshet recently updated the resources. “Adjusting practices to make them more inclusive is what has always been done in Jewish tradition,” said Maris. “Even ancient practices and rituals have evolved over time, and because they are human constructed, we continue to humanly evolve them.”

However, a number of communities still mainly offer gendered ceremonies. Orthodox synagogues and others that are non-egalitarian have not made widespread shifts towards gender-neutral ceremonies.

Despite the strict gender separation in Orthodoxy, there is also a growing push for inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals in these spaces. Organizations like Eshel, a nonprofit based in the United States and Canada, work to provide LGBTQ+ Orthodox jews and their families with resources for living and thriving in Orthodox Jewish spaces. Other organizations are targeted specifically at teens, such as Jewish Queer Youth, which engages queer youth from Orthodox, Hasidic and traditionalist Sephardi/Mizrahi communities.

“LGBTQ youth who live in a community that is accepting of LGBTQ people reported significantly lower rates of attempting suicide than those who do not,” reports The Trevor Project. For both Brave and Marx, their communities, families and friends were largely supportive of their decision to have non-gendered ceremonies. “It definitely felt like the community showed me a lot of love to be able to do that,” Marx said. “I was really able to be myself.”

By expanding inclusion, Jewish institutions are expanding their reach and impact, as well as creating more engaging communities. “I don’t think that God creates in vain. And so, while there’s a lot of people that are still learning, including myself, about issues relating to gender and identity, our role as a sacred space and a Jewish community is to have an open tent where folks can enter in any doorway they want, because there are no doors,” said Rabbi Greene of Har Hashem. 

Brave said that their ceremony made them feel fully included in their synagogue.It felt good to officially be a part of a community that I can’t really get taken away from,” they said.

The post ‘I wanted to be more me’: Teens propel a trend toward gender-neutral mitzvah ceremonies appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply


Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

Continue Reading


The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

Continue Reading



Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017 - 2023 Jewish Post & News