Tzelem comes to Pittsburgh
B’Tzelem ElohimThe image of God

Tzelem comes to Pittsburgh

New group hopes to engage Pittsburgh Jewish nonbinary, trans, gender expansive and LGBTQ+ teens

2016.08.27 17th Street Festival Washington, DC USA 07651. Photo by Ted Eytan, courtesy of
2016.08.27 17th Street Festival Washington, DC USA 07651. Photo by Ted Eytan, courtesy of

In the last year, 41% of LGBTQ young people have seriously considered suicide and 67% experienced symptoms of anxiety. The percentage rises for those who are transgender or nonbinary.

Those findings are part of a 2023 national survey on the mental health of LGBTQ young people, aged 13-24, conducted by the Trevor Project, an organization whose mission is to end suicide among LGBTQ young people.

The numbers in the Trevor Project’s study grabbed the attention of organizations working with teens. When a teen engagement survey conducted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, in conjunction with Rosov Consulting, found mental, emotional, social and spiritual health were top concerns for Jewish teens, Federation leaders decided they had to act.

In 2022, the Federation embarked on a one-year grant with Moving Traditions, an organization focused on youth programs at the intersection of gender, well-being and Judaism, according to Carolyn Linder, the Federation’s associate director of Jewish life and learning.

Through their work with Moving Traditions, Federation leaders learned of Tzelem, Moving Traditions’ monthly teen group for nonbinary, trans, gender-expansive and LGBTQ+ teens.

They are bringing the group to Pittsburgh.

According to Tzelem’s website, its name comes from “B’Tzelem Elohim,” meaning that each person is created in the image of God.

Federation is partnering with the JCC Second Floor, Repair the World, UpStreet Pittsburgh and others for the new program, Linder explained.

“The Tzelem group,” she said, “will be a safe, sacred space for nonbinary, trans, gender-expansive and LGBTQ+ teens to explore and celebrate the various ways that Judaism honors expansive understandings of gender.”

The group will focus on topics such as healthy relationships, stress, belonging and identity, according to the Federation’s website, and will include opportunities to meet other teens and Jewish adult mentors to discuss issues around transition and gender expression. Em Duhamel will serve as the group leader.

Duhamel was involved with Moving Traditions as a mentor in its Kol Koleinu Teen Feminist Fellowship program while in college in Cincinnati, and, as a fellow with Repair the World, worked with teenagers and high schoolers.

Duhamel said that teens will often have opportunities in religious school and youth groups to explore their Jewish identities. That can prove more challenging for LGBTQ, transgender and nonbinary teens.

“It’s hard to figure out how we might fit into Judaism, what our role might look like, how it influences what it’s like to be just a transgender high schooler,” Duhamel said. “This is an opportunity for them to explore that through different discussions, different chances to meet different people in the community who are trans and Jewish and navigating that identity.”

Duhamel said the teen years are scary enough to navigate, and when identity issues are added on top of that, it can feel overwhelming and isolating.

“Growing up, I didn’t know many nonbinary Jewish adults and didn’t really see myself represented among the people I knew,” Duhamel said. “I’m really excited Tzelem is happening now. I can just imagine that if I had something like this in high school, I would have felt a little bit less alone while I was trying to navigate some of these questions.”

Incoming Federation Chair Jan Levinson said teens of all genders need spaces to connect with peers and adult mentors and to be seen and accepted for who they are.

“We are proud to be partnering with Moving Traditions, an organization that runs health and well-being programs for Jewish teens and young adults, and with so many of our local Jewish youth-serving organizations to launch our community’s first Tzelem teen group,” he said. “It is important for young LGBTQ+ Jews to have a space where they can openly embrace both their religious and gender identity.”

An information session for parents and teens be held on Oct. 4 at 8 p.m. on Zoom. Subsequent meetings will be in person at the Squirrel Hill JCC’s Second Floor and UpStreet.

Those interested in registering for Tzelem or learning more about the program can visit PJC

David Rullo can be reached at

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