Havdalah for Parent of Gender-Transitioning Child

By Lisa Levy

Good evening. I’d like to thank you all for coming to this special Havdalah through which I hope to say a ritual goodbye to my daughter, (birth name of child). As you know, (birth name of child) is now my son, (new name of child). Loving (new name of child) is not hard—but losing (birth name of child) is proving to be. Through conversations with many of you, I decided that perhaps it might be somewhat easier for me if I created a ritual of separation. What better ritual to mark a separation could there be than Havdalah, the ceremony which marks the separation of Shabbat from the rest of the week? So being my somewhat obsessive self, I hauled out the books of Psalms, Proverbs, Lamentations and Ecclesiastes—and read them all in their entirety, looking for verses that might speak to me of this experience. I found what I needed and more—and with friends for editors, this is the result.

Let me give you a brief overview of the service. Rather than the opening verses we are all accustomed to, we will begin with several verses that speak of my pain and grief during this difficult time but since I am only changing verses and not the traditional blessings, the brakhot, of Havdalah, there is no halachic issue with substituting my verses for the traditional ones. Then I will recite the brachot. While I have not changed them, I have chosen specific things that are meaningful to my relationship to (birth name of child) to fulfill the blessings — Moscato wine, which is the only wine that (birth name of child) will drink, for example. For the besamim, the spices, I will use our family besamim to be halachically correct but will then pass around a scent that reminds me of the sweetness of (birth name of child)’s childhood—baby powder. And for the light, I will not be using a traditional Havdalah candle but rather two intertwined birthday candles, again reminding me poignantly of her growing up and maturing. I chose the numbers 1 and 7 because (birth name of child) was 17 when she announced she was transgender. Then I will recite the paragraph which is the final blessing of Havdalah. At the end of the Havdalah blessing, we will continue with a song. During Havdalah, I know it is traditional to sing “Eliyahu HaNavi”. But we are not singing that. Since this ceremony is about difficult transitions, I chose the song “Gesher Tsar M’od.” This song is about the fact that life is constantly presenting us with new challenges—bridges to cross—but the key, says the song, is not to be afraid of the challenges—the key is to keep crossing the bridges. I can really relate to this song as our family is facing a big challenge right now.

At this point, we will continue with a few more verses, but this time the verses look forward in a more hopeful tone, verses which speak of trusting in God and recognizing that all God’s creations are made with wisdom. Next, we will recite some lines from the well-known text of Ecclesiastes, “To everything there is a season,” followed by a brazen attempt on my part to add a few new lines that friends and I wrote together. To conclude the service, we will sing a song with the words of the Hallel ceremony—“Ozi v’Zimrat Yah.” This song represents for me a feeling of having achieved a sense of personal celebration. I have created through this ceremony a cherished place in my heart for my memories of my daughter, (birth name of child). Knowing these memories are in a safe place in my heart allows me to move forward in my relationship with my son, (new name of child). The People of Israel sang these same words as they crossed the Sea to freedom as part of their own transition from slavery to freedom. We still sing these words regularly in Hallel to remember the importance of this event for B’nai Yisrael—and every time we sing these words in shul, I will remember singing them here with you tonight as part of my own transition.

When we have finished, we will adjourn to the dining room for some modest refreshments. One last thing before we begin—I would especially like to thank Rabbi David Cavill for helping me put this service together and generously donating his time toward that effort; also my daughter for the many and varied ways in which she has helped me put tonight together, not the least of which is filming tonight’s ceremony. Again, I can’t tell you all how much it means to me that you have all come to share this experience with me, especially those who have come from out of town to support me through my own transition, as it were—but enough talking—let’s get started!

Complete Ceremony

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