March 25, 2019, West Orange, New Jersey – Abby Stein is arguably the ideal choice to lead a post-screening discussion of the New Jersey Jewish Film Festival’s offering on Sunday, April 7 at 2PM. “Family in Transition” is an Israeli documentary about a father of four struggling to keep his family together as he transitions into a woman; Stein is the first openly transgender woman raised in a Hasidic community.
Stein began her transition from male to female at the age of 23, in 2013. She came out on her blog and established a public presence, eager, she said, to let other transgender Hasidim know they are not alone. “I wanted to be a voice,” she said. “If someone would have told me then that there were other people like me, it just would have been so helpful.”
Stein is busy as an educator and activist for transgender issues. She maintains a Facebook group and established a support group for others like her and has spoken extensively and been interviewed by print media and television from across the globe, including the United States, Israel, France, and Russia. Her blog, “The Second Transition” — the first was leaving her Hasidic home and community in Brooklyn, which she did with support from Footsteps, an organization that helps ultra-Orthodox Jews integrate into mainstream society — can be found at abbychavastein.com. She is also working on a memoir.
Selected as one of 2016’s “36 Under 36” — the New York Jewish Week’s annual profiling of up-and-coming innovative community leaders — Stein remains involved in Jewish life through Romemu, a New York congregation that is part of the Jewish Renewal movement. “I tried for a while to disengage myself from Judaism altogether,” she said, “but it’s really hard to take 20 years of your life and forget about it.” In fact, Stein has joked that she’s the first, and only, ultra-Orthodox ordained female rabbi, having received smicha in 2011 at Yeshiva Viznitz, before her transition.
In her public appearances, Stein welcomes her audiences’ receptivity to new ideas. “Most American Jews are…the most progressive and welcoming people I’ve ever met,” she said. She strives to encourage them to put aside preconceptions — not only about transgender individuals but about the chasidic community, many of whose traditions she still treasures.
“Everyone has their own story and their own pain,” she said.
“Family in Transition” the 2018 winner of the Best Israeli Documentary at Tel Aviv’s DocAviv International Film Festival, will be shown Sunday, April 7, at 2 p.m. at JCC MetroWest in West Orange, part of the New Jersey Jewish Film Festival, with Abby Stein leading the post-screening discussion.
The 2018 Israeli documentary is about a father of four in Nahariya who reveals to his wife and children that he’s about to transition into a woman. The family struggles to adjust, but just when it seems they have achieved some normalcy, their lives are turned upside down. For more information or to purchase tickets to “Family in Transition”, please visit: https://jccmetrowest.org/event/family-in-transition/
The 19th annual festival, with over two dozen acclaimed works, takes place March 27-April 7. Ticket prices range from $11 to $13; sponsorships begin at $325 and include an all-festival pass. Contact festival director Sarah Diamond at [email protected] or 973-530-3417 or visit jccmetrowest.org/njjff.