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Tuesday November 21st 2017

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Life: Elana Spezio’s journey to becoming a trans interfaith rabbi

Elana Spezio. Photo: Susan Jordan

By Susan Jordan

Elana Spezio has overcome many of the challenges that trans people face, including being rejected by part of her family and struggling with suicidal feelings. Now she wants to stand up for all people who experience discrimination and are made to feel “less than”.

Born in Albion, Elana and her family moved to Rochester when she was three months old. She said, “I knew I was female the first day of kindergarten, when I realized I wanted to be in the girls’ section.”

Soon she also realized that she would have to hide her true identity.

She majored in American studies at Syracuse University, intending to go to law school, but then she went to grad school at Boston University and ended up being ordained as a United Methodist pastor, serving at several parishes in western New York. She later became a nursing home administrator.

When she decided to transition, her spouse left her and they were divorced. Elana said, “When I first began transitioning, the hardest thing was being told by my fundamentalist Christian ex-spouse that I would be divorced and rejected by our children and her relatives if I took hormones and transitioned. It was not only losing my immediate family and the home I had created, but my extended family as well. I ended up in a trailer park in Pennsylvania.”

However, she also became involved in politics, helping a trans woman run for a county office (she lost). Three years ago she started reaching out to her children and two responded positively. The third, who is a fundamentalist Christian, “still won’t have anything to do with me. I do see my other grandchildren three or four times a month, which is great.”

Twenty years ago, Elana left the Methodist church, and ultimately decided, “Judaism was where I felt most comfortable. I had an Orthodox Jewish conversion just after Y2K and was ordained as a rabbi in 2015.

“I’m the third trans person in the world to receive Rabbinic Ordination. I had already had graduate divinity training and a graduate degree from Boston University, somuch of this Rabbinic trainoing seemed like a refresher. My experience with the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute in Manhattan was both challenging and delightful. While retired, I still love learning.”

Today Elana attends Beth Hadmadresh – Beth Israel (BHBI) as a congregant. She added, “I don’t work as a rabbi (interfaith) now, but am working to be a volunteer rabbi interfaith chaplain for the LGBT community. That’s what I would like. I’m not looking for money. My motivation is that I’d like to have the doors open, to do speaking engagements and other things to help not only LGBT people but also immigrants and anyone outside the system. That’s the cornerstone for me – I want to stand up for anyone who is marginalized.”