Ezra Furman performs in London, England, August 14, 2019. (Photo /JTA-Robin Little-Redferns)
Ezra Furman performs in London, England, August 14, 2019. (Photo /JTA-Robin Little-Redferns)

On Twitter, Jewish trans musician Ezra Furman calls out Orthodox queerphobia

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Last week, Jewish musician Ezra Furman made an announcement of sorts. No, she isn’t releasing a new album, nor will she be going on an international tour. Rather, what Furman had to say was much more personal in nature: why, despite living an observant Jewish life, she does not identify as an Orthodox Jew.

“I’m a person who’s been in love with Orthodox Judaism since I was a teenager. And the denomination’s insistence on its own queerphobia and anti-feminism has fully pushed me out, and so many others as well,” the bisexual, transgender songwriter said in a Twitter thread.

Furman, who used to live in Berkeley, responded to a reply to one of the tweets in the thread with, “I miss Berkeley!! [Congregation Beth Israel] was the closest I got to uncloseted in an Orthodox context.”

“I might have been what they call a baalat teshuvah, someone who becomes Orthodox who was not raised that way. I wanted to find ways to adapt to Orthodoxy, to show that you could be queer and Orthodox, to search out the places in Orthodox Judaism that could embrace me,” Furman went on, while adding that there has been no healthy way for her to do this due to overwhelming anti-queer prejudice within in Orthodox Judaism.

Ezra Furman, who has described herself as a “transfeminine psalmist,” is a 36-year-old American musician who has been on the music scene for nearly 20 years. Known for creating music which spans genres and for providing the soundtrack for the show “Sex Education,” Furman started out in a band called Ezra Furman and the Harpoons. Mostly recently, however, she’s operated as a solo artist, with her sixth solo album (and ninth total) “All of Us Flames” having debuted in August. In addition to music, Furman is also a mother and briefly attended rabbinical school at Hebrew College in Newton, Massachusetts in 2021.

In the thread, Furman only hinted at her own personal experiences which have prompted her feelings around Orthodoxy. However, she did share a link to an article from Hey Alma’s partner site, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, about the experience of another transgender Orthodox Jewish woman, Talia Avrahami.

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Avrahami was first in the news in September after she was forced to resign from her job as a teacher at an Orthodox Jewish yeshiva due to her identity as a transgender woman. Now she’s in the news again after Shenk Shul, her synagogue, told her that she was no longer welcome to pray there. Notably, Shenk Shul is affiliated with Yeshiva University, which is fighting in court to not recognize a gay pride student club.

For Furman, it seems that Talia Avrahami’s experience is just further proof that no matter how observant a queer person might be, the leaders of Orthodox Judaism are determined to exclude them. “It makes me sad that that kind of Jewish community will just never fully welcome me,” Furman shared. “I daven every day (almost), I keep Shabbat carefully and traditionally, I do my best with keeping mitzvot and honoring God in the best way I have found. But it is lonely sometimes.”

Ultimately, the musician ended her thread with a message specifically for the Orthodox community. “If Orthodox people are reading this, all I want is for you to understand how many people like me exist. People who would be living vigorous, mitzvot-driven lives if you could stop shaming us, alienating us, sometimes driving us to suicide, more often driving us away from Judaism.”

Going on, she wrote, “There’s another way. Certainly for Modern Orthodoxy, which once had the goal of helping people remain observant Jews. If anyone wants to find that way, maybe I’ll show up and help make a minyan.”

A version of this piece was first published by HeyAlma and is reprinted with permission.

Evelyn Frick

Evelyn Frick is a writer and comedian and Alma's editorial assistant.

Hey Alma

This content first appeared on HeyAlma.com and is reprinted with permission.