Marine Corps Capt. Moshe Avi is one year out of active duty and has been splitting his time between New York and Washington, where he comes once a month as a reservist.
He’s also a transgender man, a Jew by choice and all around Renaissance man. Avi, 27, met WJW in Alexandria to talk about his transition, his spiritual journey and giving himself a year off.
What made you join the Marine Corps?
I give credit to my dad. He’s a Vietnam vet and served tours out there.
Was your dad also a Marine?
He was in the Army, actually. A Green Beret. He was a big push, but I always had it in me that this was what I wanted to do, this was the career I wanted to live. I wanted to serve my country, to give back.
The second part would be — I call him, like, my shomer — this good friend of mine. He’s a Jewish Marine. He embodied not just as a Marine, but as a Jewish person, what I wanted — to take care of people, kindness.
Do you still play the trumpet?
I still do. I play for fallen veterans now. One of the volunteer things I do. After my father passed away — when I was in college — there was something in the system where they could not provide live bugles for the service. So, I ended up playing taps for my father. And then the group I ended up joining was Bugles Across America.
What about salsa dancing?
I still do when I go out sometimes. I keep up my connections.
It sounds like you have a lot of very disparate interests.
Also volunteering. Firefighting, EMS and I’m part of Team Rubicon as well, which is a veteran-founded organization. We do a lot of disaster relief. We just came back from Puerto Rico, actually.
I mean, how do you have all this time?
So, you caught me at a very unique time of my life. I got off active duty about a year ago and saved a year of money to decompress, relax and re-ground myself. So, within that re-grounding process, I studied at a fire academy [and] went to study at a yeshiva in Israel.
What do you want to do after your year of everything is done?
I’m actually in the pipeline for FDNY [the New York City Fire Department]. Their turnaround is three to five years sometimes to get into a class. But I love it.
So when did you come out as transgender?
I always knew. This part is actually very unique. I lived socially as a male since college. At University of Tampa, I was in male dorms, using those facilities. And then I had a little bit of a change in my life where I put myself back in the closet and actually lived as a female in the military while living outside as a male.
That must have been hard.
It was one of those things like I just put the clothes on that make everybody else happy. I don’t mind postponing my life to serve my country and establish myself as a better person. I had a lot of honor wearing the uniform. That’s kind of what drove me.
It was one of those beautiful journeys I had to embrace. Like, you know what, it’s going to be four years. The chips fall where the chips fall and I’m OK with that.
How do you see your Jewish identity now?
I always say that my Jewish soul saved me. I knew very early on — my dad had a big bookcase with encyclopedias and I used to take down the books and look at the photos of the Holocaust. And I don’t know what it was, I was always captivated by it. And it’s a yearning I have to this day. My dad came to it and took me to Hebrew class when I was in fifth grade. He went to Barnes & Noble and bought “Hebrew for Dummies.”
So, neither of your parents were Jewish, you just had this draw to it?
It was a complete obsession. And I had that journey and then the “Who am I” journey I felt because I was in the wrong body. And being in the wrong body, you do deal with the darker side of things. That’s why I say my Jewish soul saved me. After [a rough time] I wore my tallit every day.
It was a comfort?
Yeah, it was like “This is who you are and you’re also a Jew.”
It sounds like the journeys coincided a lot.
I would not have it any other way. If I had done one without the other, I would never have had the deep journey and connection with my spirituality.
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