In honor of Women's History Month, we've launched #WomenWhoWill, an online campaign honoring women we know will make history from around the world.
We're excited to introduce you to Abby Stein - a Jewish educator, speaker, and trans activist. She was born and raised in a Chasidic family of rabbinic descent; she is the 10th generation of the Baal Shem Tov - Founder of the Chasidic movement. In that world Abby attended Yeshiva and completed a rabbinical degree in 2011. In 2012, she left the Chasidic world to explore different world views, coming out as transgender in 2015. Since coming out, Abby has been doing work towards her goal to raise awareness and support people going through a similar experience. Her story has been covered in the New York Times, New York Post, New York Magazine, Jewish Daily Forward, Daily Mail, NBC, and more, as well as live appearances on Fox News, CNN, HuffPost Live, ShowTime and more. In 2016, Abby was named by The Jewish Week as one of the 36 Under 36 young Jews who are affecting change in the world. She is a third year student at Columbia University, studying women’s and gender studies, and political science.
What are you up to right now?
I am currently in my third year at Columbia University's School of General Studies studying Women’s and gender studies, and political science. I am also teaching at two Hebrew Schools, and working on a political campaign. I am also traveling around the country and beyond, to talk about gender issues, teach about Gender within Jewish texts, and engage with college students on these topics.
What’s a struggle you’ve overcome? What did you learn from it?
My biggest struggle in life was definitely coming out to myself. More than coming out to my amazing friends who accepted me, or my parents who rejected me. It taught me so much about the beauty called life, and how much better everything can be, if only we are true to ourselves and face our biggest fears. It also taught me that no matter what’s the price of self-determination is, at times, it is impossible to be a friend, kid, family member, etc. if there is no ‘you’ first and foremost.
With the current political climate, what’s your advice to keep taking action? How are you taking action?
Get involved!!! While getting involved with the federal government can be overwhelming, there is so much we can do, help, and accomplish by getting involved on a local level. From government to non profits to community groups; the biggest piece of advice is “get involved”. I did it myself by getting a job at City Hall right after the election, and that is how we can keep the grassroots momentum going!
What’s your self-mantra?
If there is no “you” - you can’t be a part of any family, community, or social circle. If there is only you, the you is doesn’t exist.
What does an average day look like to you?
I start the morning always with a chunk of time of reading in bed - it helps me set my brain on the right course, followed by exercise - mainly swimming. After breakfast I usually do homework, and classes - with more homework in between. After I am done with school, I set away time to answer professional emails, schedule events and speeches, and reply to these in the LGBTQ community reaching out for help. I work most of the days in the late afternoon - either teaching, or public policy community work. Evenings are usually relaxed at home, cooking dinner most nights (I LOVE cooking), and then using some down time to catch up ‘light reading’ (Okay not really.. Most of my reading are history, political theory, religion/theology especially historical religion and gender related), and/or catching up on TV shows.
It’s Women’s History Month - who is a woman from history/from your own life that has shaped who you are today? First and foremost, my mom. As much as I miss not being able to talk to her, she is part of my day to day life in every way. From the food and the her recipes that I always use, to her extraordinary strength and courage showing that women can indeed everything, and have power that’s beyond the norm. Some of the trans women that have affected my life are: Jennifer Boylan - whose book “She Is Not There” changed my life forever, Joy Ladin, whose courage and writings taught me that trans women have a place within Judaism, Yiscah Smith, the only role model I had on how to be trans while coming from an Orthodox background. Currently I am proud to have close personal relationships with all three of those bold women.