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Remembering Israeli LGBT Activist May Peleg

Remembering Israeli LGBT Activist May Peleg

On November 14, May Peleg, a leader and activist in the Israeli LGBT community, took her own life at the age of 31.

Those, like me, who knew May personally, remember her for her tireless dedication to the LGBT community, for her political and social activism, and for her passion and energy. May was the first transgender chairperson of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance (JOH) and the owner of Jerusalem's only LGBT nightclub, the Mikveh.

The last time I saw her was this past July, after the stabbing at the Jerusalem Pride March. May had just gotten out of the hospital. She was clearly in pain and barely able to stand. Yet she came to the Jerusalem Open House and stayed all night to comfort others. That was her way.

May continues to be an activist, even in her death.

Because of the Rabbinate’s monopoly over burial practices in Israel, there is no way May can be buried in Jerusalem as a woman. In her will, May wrote, "Judaism does not recognize me as the woman that I am. Religious burial would be an insult to my life, my legacy, and my values.” 

She directed in her will that her body be cremated, and that her ashes be buried beneath a kurrajong tree, known for having both male and female flowers, to be planted in her memory. Lacking other options, this is the only way May saw to preserve her identity.

Last week, May’s estranged mother filed papers in court demanding an ultra-Orthodox burial that would dress May in male shrouds and refer to her by her male birth name. Judge Arnon Darel reviewed all of the evidence and denied the request. Referring to May in the female gender, the court concluded that May had the autonomy and the authority to insist that her body and her final wishes be respected.

May's mother filed an appeal yesterday with the Supreme Court, who will now have the final say. I will be attending the hearing tomorrow in support of May's wishes.

The Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism believes in the full equality, inclusion and acceptance of people of all gender identities and gender expressions, and that burial should reflect the deceased’s values, wishes and identity. We at the Israel Religious Action Center are leading the struggle to create civil burial options in Israel, and supports efforts to establish a Reform cemetery in central Israel.

Rest in peace, May. Your legacy of social activism is an inspiration to all who knew you.

Rabbi Noa Sattath is the director of the Israel Religious Action Center.

Rabbi Noa Sattath
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