There are no two stories of transitioning that are the same, and Yiscah Smith’s tale about her own particular journey is probably one of the most intriguing we have ever seen. Born in a devout Observant Jewish family in Brooklyn as Yakov Smith and as a boy at school Smith was picked on and bullied for being effeminate. Smith grew into became a teenager and young man who became increasing desperate to fit in with society.
By the time the intensely intellectual Smith was 24 in 1971 and was immersed in the Chabad Hasidic movement in Brooklyn, and was then married an Orthodox woman. The couple had three sons and three daughters, and in 1985 they decided to immigrate to Israel.
At the synagogue in Jerusalem where Smith taught and was considered a rising star and so very quickly was made chairman in the Chabad house, presiding over Shabbat and entertaining guests from around the globe.
On the outside Smith’s world seemed completely perfect but nevertheless Smith had never stopped questioning their own identity. That all came to ahead after a Shabbat dinner when a guest drew Smith to aside and said “That was an amazing act you performed for us tonight,” cryptically. adding “Take care of yourself.”
That finally triggered Smith to take stock of life and deciding to come out as gay resulting in his wife starting divorce proceedings. This also led to Smith being shunned and fired by the Chabad and eventually ending up alone back in New York.
There the restless Smith adopted a secular life and ended up in California working in Starbucks and living with a boyfriend. That relationship ended when the boyfriend said that Smith was too much like a woman for his taste, and that finally triggered off Smith’s light bulb moment.
Becoming Yiscah Smith wasn’t just about undergoing gender reassignment surgery but finding her faith again and energetically plunging back into Orthodox Judaism. After a brief relationship with a Texan man, and making amends with her estranged mother. Smith finally returns to re-settle in Israel as a successful educator, spiritual advisor and as a speaker in the “post-denominational Jewish experience,”
She is at peace with herself and appears both extremely confident and happy and even reluctantly accepting the fact that only 2 of her 6 children will speak with her occasionally. Throughout this whole journey Smith comes over as a woman who usually overthinks things too much and as we are not privy to all her processes, some of her decisions are still surprising.
She adamantly refuses to accept that she is a trans woman and insists that she has always been a straight woman who is attracted to man. This is no casual throwaway statement, but is something she firmly believes, and when questioned about her involvement with any transgender community, she is quick to dismiss the mere idea of it.
To Smith the real transitioning is finding her own way back to Judaism which is the one identity that embraces her with unquestioning faith.
I Was Not Born A Mistake is the directing debut of Israeli filmmakers Eyal Ben Moshe, and Rachel Rusinek and is a flattering profile of Smith which may have benefitted by adding interviews/comments from people who had shared parts of her life. Nevertheless the documentary does make its own valuable contribution to the continuing dialogue about the transgender community.