My name is Hannah Banwell, I’m a Freshman at SPCPA, I reside in the frozen tundra that is Minnesota. I am the MVP for my TYG, SPORTY, and a member of NFTY-NO. At this past Winter kallah, I proposed and passed an amendment to the NFTY-NO constitution regarding gender neutrality and I want to tell you about the process.
For starters, what does gender neutral mean? “Not referring to either sex but only to people in general.” Gender neutral is used as an ideal in the NFTY community because we choose to see people as just that, a person. Not a body part or a social stereotype.
Why did I write this legislation? No, I didn’t do it because someone told me to. I did it because since I was in fifth grade everyone has told me that NFTY is their home, that the people in NFTY are family. But when I read the constitution the language in it left out a huge part of the NFTY family, my family. In other words, the constitution wasn’t living up to what NFTY is. Who NFTY is.
The process of writing an amendment is, I’m not going to lie to you, difficult. It seriously stressed me out and while I was writing it, I doubted my ability to do something this important. I was making a super public statement to my peers about something I feel really passionate about, that I believe in wholeheartedly. And that kind of scared me. But all of my doubt melted away when I told my TYG what I was doing. Without hesitation they fully supported me and gave me the push I needed to take this chance, to make this statement.
Even though I was super pumped and ready to go and do it, I was missing a lot of information about writing an amendment. I sat down with Andrea, NFTY-NO’s President, to talk it out. I thought all I had to do was write what I wanted to change and why, but I was wrong. The first thing I had to come up with was the “background”, which is basically a bunch of information to 1. Educate my peers and 2. Basically to prove that history says I’m right. I ended up with two and a half paragraphs of background that talked about when gender-neutral pronouns were first used and what our Jewish community has to say about gender neutrality. The next section of an amendment is the “whereas” section, my personal favorite. This section is where I addressed the problem and show the evidence to back it up. I also got to say “Whereas” four times, which was really fun. The next part of writing an amendment is the “therefore let it be resolved” portion, this is the part where you specifically state what you want to change. After all that you have to get a few, or a bunch, of people to co-sign your amendment. When someone co-signs they are saying that they agree with you and support you. All that’s left to do is sign it yourself, present it at asefah and hopefully get it passed.
During this process, I learned a lot, not only about Gender neutrality but about my Jewish community. Like, did you know that in 1978, a responsum from the CCAR affirmed that a (Reform) rabbi may officiate at the wedding of two Jews if one partner has transitioned to the gender with which they identify, as opposed to the one they were assigned at birth. Or that in 1990, a responsum affirmed that being transgender alone is not a basis to deny someone’s conversion to Judaism. And in 2015, the Central Conference of American Rabbis Rabbinical Placement Commission updated its policies to require that congregations and other organizations seeking a rabbi commit to including in their search all candidates regardless of their gender identity. But the most important and personal thing I learned about my NFTY-NO community is that it’s a space that accepts all individuals wholeheartedly, and unanimously wants to be as accepting and forward thinking as humanly possible.
Every step of learning and writing this amendment was amazing and completely worth it, even though I took those steps with a lot of caution and support from my community. Now, I’m going to let you in on a secret, I have social anxiety. The whole part of standing in front of my peers, in front of a community where I am relatively new, and sharing something important to me, almost killed me. When I told my TYG, SPORTY, that I was about to pass out, do you know what they did? They told me how proud of me they were and how they would be there to support me the whole time. I can’t express to you how much their words meant. During asefah, I would frequently give my friends a terrified look and every time, without fail, they would either tell me how proud they were of me, hug me, or give my hand a squeeze. I felt so loved and I knew in that moment that my TYG, my board, my community was there for me 100%. When Andrea called me up to present, I gave my friends one last terrified look as I walked to the front of the room. Their response gave me all the confidence I needed; they started chanting my name and banging on the bleachers. I was on the verge of tears, but surprisingly, they weren’t tears of fear. They were tears of pure and real happiness. In that moment I knew it was all worth it, I no longer doubted myself. I couldn’t have gotten there without my NFTY community.