In an exceptional move, 56 Orthodox rabbis published a letter of support for Osher Band, a 15-year-old transgender girl from Ashkelon who hasn’t gone to school for more than six months because of violence and threats to her life by other students.
The letter, addressed to Osher, was sent to Education Ministry director general Shmuel Abuav and to the principal of the ORT Henry Ronson High School in Ashkelon, where she is enrolled.
“We, Orthodox rabbis and rabbis’ wives, are shocked and pained to hear of the violence against you because of your identity as a transgender girl. This is not the way of the Jewish people. The Torah teaches us ‘love thy neighbor as thyself,’ and the ancient Jewish sages teach us that the Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. We are commanded to respect every person, and moreover we are commanded to care for the ‘stranger, the orphan and the widow’ – that is, every man, woman, girl or boy who lives among us and is in a fragile social state, such as transgender people,” the letter said.
“It is hard to imagine what might comfort you in this painful time but we hope that from your pain, something good may emerge. We expect that as a result of the experiences you have undergone, your school and the whole education system will understand that your case is ... symbolic. It turns out that many transgender people are exposed to violence, which is not always reflected in the media,” the letter continued.
“Perhaps due to your story, the authorities will realize that there is a rupture in the system and soul-searching must be done. The authorities and all of society have the responsibility to find out how educational institutions can be changed so that transgender students will not feel pushed aside, and of course will not endure violence of any kind.”
Among the signatories to the letter are Rabbi Avidan Friedman, a senior rabbi at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and Rabbi David Bigman, head of the Ma’aleh Gilboa Yeshiva.
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The letter also expresses to Osher the hope that as a result of her story, “Officials in the Education Ministry will take practical steps to ensure that when the students see transgender boys and girls grappling with their identity, in any area, they will understand that this is natural and will support them and that their entire environment will care for their safety, instead of harassing them. We hope and pray that you succeed in recovering from the physical as well as mental scars this violence has left in you, and with God’s help you will grow to be a strong, happy woman and enjoy much joy [“osher” in Hebrew], like your name.”
Ofer Neuman, director of the Israeli LGBTQ Youth Organization, of which Osher has been a member for the past three years, said: “As opposed to the violence, such a letter is a welcome initiative that proves how egalitarian and full of love Judaism can be, which is unfortunately often used to spread hatred and LGBT-phobia.”
At the beginning of the school year, Osher was attacked physically and verbally at school, including facing threats with a knife, and stayed home out of fear. So far no other educational framework has been found for her. Her mother recently received a letter from the authorities warning her of criminal consequences if she did not send her to school.
A week ago Osher returned to ORT Henry Ronson, and was attacked by a girl in her grade and hospitalized with a concussion.
The high school said Osher’s behavior was “provocative” and that she had been posting “crude, flaunting pictures” on Instagram. In response to inquiries from Haaretz, ORT Henry Ronson’s principal, Ora Gul, told the Ashkelon Municipality that the school had sought to accept Osher and even tried to fashion a special program for her, but her mother would not cooperate.