An Eye-Opening Kol Ami Experience

An Eye-Opening Kol Ami Experience
As a transgender man, Daniel’s Kol Ami experience was meaningful for multiple reasons

Photo provided by Daniel

Born and raised in the northern town of Kiryat Tiv’on in Israel, Daniel, now 20, chose to participate in the Kol Ami program in 2017-2018. Kol Ami: Jewish Peoplehood Academies bring together young Israelis and Jewish high school graduates from abroad to study and volunteer together, exploring issues of Jewish identity and strengthening the participants’ connection to the Jewish people.

“I decided to join Kol Ami because I was – and still am – very interested in learning about other cultures and getting to know people from all around the world, especially Jewish people my age,” said Daniel.

Assigned female at birth, Daniel came out as transgender a few months before starting the program. And while being openly trans in Kol Ami affected his experience, Daniel credits the staff and participants with being as accommodating as possible and accepting of his trans identity. He talked to staff before the program started so any potential issues could be solved beforehand and to ensure his male social transition was as smooth as possible.

Daniel was assigned female roommates but was granted an inner room with more privacy and otherwise engaged in the same activities as the other male participants.

“Everyone referred to me using the correct name and pronouns, which was a great experience to have so early on in my personal journey and cannot be taken for granted,” recalled Daniel. “Most importantly, I was not ‘othered’ and did not have to sit out of anything because of my identity.”

Kol Ami brings people from different backgrounds together and helps them form unique, lifelong bonds

Mechinot, a program of The Jewish Agency for Israel, provides an opportunity for Israeli high-school graduates to live, work, and take part in leadership training before they enter the armed service. Kol Ami is a Mechinot post-high school service learning program that brings together Israelis and Jewish young adults from around the world so they can learn and work together.

And besides feeling accepted on the program, Daniel also felt the program was giving him a different perspective than he’d had before.

“As much as people are close now with the internet, we’re also very much apart, and differences are inciting groups against each other. I believe that we as the Jewish people must not let these differences tear us apart, but rather embrace our diversity as something that makes us stronger,” explained Daniel. “Kol Ami brings people from different backgrounds together and helps them form unique, lifelong bonds, which help achieve just that.”

After finishing Kol Ami, Daniel served in the Israeli Navy as an adjutant non-commissioned officer. As in Kol Ami, his transgender identity didn’t affect him majorly during his service and he was able to start transitioning medically and taking testosterone while in service. He finished his service two months ago and now is studying for the psychometric exam (the Israeli equivalent of the SATs).

As June is Pride Month, Daniel reflected on what it means to him as a part of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Just like in many other holidays we celebrate being us, being alive, and overcoming all obstacles and hatred we faced in the past,” said Daniel. “During Pride Month we, the LGBTQ+ community, celebrate our love, our authentic selves, our ever-growing acceptance into mainstream society, and remember all those who fought — and even lost their lives — for us to be where we are today.”