Kara Kirsch ended up in the Twin Cities by accident. She came at a friend’s invitation, her car broke down here, and friends convinced her to stay. But in the 28 years she’s lived here, she’s never really found community.
It’s not for lack of trying. Kara searched in a variety of places, including Catholic churches. But her attempts to connect with others usually have been rebuffed. Sometimes it’s because she lacks transportation to participate physically. But often, it’s because she’s a trans woman who has undergone sexual reassignment surgery (SRS).
Thanks to the St. Paul Federation’s new Community Concierge, Niza Schear, Kara is finding ways to connect with her Jewish heritage and our Jewish community.
Kara grew up near Washington, D.C., in a non-practicing Jewish family. She recalls constantly feeling different and being an outsider. “I just didn’t have the words to describe what it was like,” she said. “It wasn’t until college that I read about people like me, and there was a term for what I felt: gender dysphoria.”
Gradually, she came out to her family and the rest of the world. With help from many friends, she traveled to Thailand in 2008 to undergo surgery. She began meeting online with others who shared her experience, leading her to understand better what trans-sexual meant and about options for SRS.
She visited several synagogues in the Twin Cities but didn’t feel comfortable having any Jewish background. “I didn’t even know if there were Jews in Minnesota!” she said. Since then, she says she has been searching for friendships and connections.
Then in November, she was searching online for anything Jewish in St. Paul, which led her to jewishstpaul.org. One click on the Federation’s website led her to communicate with Niza.
Niza has been very kind to me,” Kara said. “To me, she is the Jewish community.”
Niza was able to suggest websites with information on Judaism, and she is helping introduce Kara to people in the Jewish community. She also is referring Kara to Jewish agencies that can offer support.
Since Kara relies on light rail and city buses, transportation has been a significant obstacle for her to attend evening events in the Jewish community. For example, it would cost $64 for her to take a cab roundtrip to an event at Temple of Aaron.
To work around this problem, Niza suggested online classes for adults offered by Hineni. She also introduced Kara to The American Jewish World, which publishes a directory of Jewish organizations in the Twin Cities. Another option was TC Jewfolk, where Kara could listen to podcasts and see a calendar of online and in-person events.
Kara thanks Community Chaplain Rabbi Lynn Liberman for her monthly visits to provide resources and discuss Jewish customs and holidays. Jewish Family Service of St. Paul offers a chaplaincy program.
What kind of connection does Kara ultimately want with the Jewish community? Help to attend Shabbat services and evening events in the community would be appreciated. “What I would appreciate most of all, she said, “would be person-to-person connections. I would like to meet people who will say, ‘Would you like to join us?’”
If you would like to reach out to Kara to learn more about her story, or if you would like to connect with Niza for information on involvement with St. Paul’s Jewish community, please email [email protected].
St. Paul Jewish Federation is grateful to Marilyn Ruby for volunteering her time to write this incredible story of connection.