When Alyx Bernstein came out as trans at the beginning of her freshman year of high school, she was shy. “I didn’t like interacting with other people,” said the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester senior.
Then she found the Jewish LGBTQ organizations Keshet and Mosaic, which brought her back to Judaism and out of her shell.
Although her school was very supportive after Bernstein came out, she “didn’t think there was a place in Judaism for me because I was queer” and she distanced herself from Jewish practice. But, she said, “Keshet kind of resuscitated that interest. It was a community that I really fell in love with.”
Soon after, Mosaic invited her to join its storytelling project, where she was trained in public speaking. “It gave me the tools to speak up and be confident … it has really been transformative,” Bernstein said.
Since then the New Rochelle teen has spoken about her own journey and how to support other trans Jews at synagogues and camps, colleges and day schools. She was on a panel with Katie Couric and did a Facebook Live discussion with transgender activist (and 2016 Jewish Week 36er) Abby Stein.
“I do it because I want to give back and help other people go through the same journey that I have,” she said.
Like Stein, Bernstein grew up Orthodox (in Bernstein’s case it was Modern while Stein was chasidic). If she hadn’t left Orthodoxy, she would not be the “proud, loud person” she is today, she said. Yet, she “missed being in a world where Judaism and observance was the norm.”
Luckily she started to find “observant progressive communities … [that are] welcoming and open,” but still have a “powerful sense of Jewish tradition” and values.
This fall Bernstein starts a Barnard/Jewish Theological Seminary joint program, where, she said, she’ll get to “experience even more of that.”
Long live Liverpool: Bernstein, who until age 9 lived in London, is a lifelong fan of the Liverpool FC, because of a bet her parents made when she was a month old. Her proudest (and most embarrassing) moment as a fan was when she injured her foot while celebrating and ended up in the ER.