This article originally appeared in our sister publication, njjewishnews.com.
Babs Siperstein was remembered as a “source of goodness and light” who championed civil rights for the transgender community and never let her progressive political stance interfere with her staunch support for Israel.
“Israel lost a really good friend,” said Jeffrey Schreiber of Highland Park, the logistics chair of NORPAC, the pro-Israel political action group for the New York metropolitan area. Schreiber established a friendship with Siperstein through her long-standing association with the
“She was as progressive in her politics as you could possibly be but showed you could be firmly progressive and still be a strong supporter of Israel,” said Schreiber.
Barbra “Babs” Casbar Siperstein of Edison died Feb. 3 of complications from cancer. She was 76.
Siperstein broke ground on a number of fronts as an activist for the transgender community. She was the first to serve on the Democratic National Committee and as vice chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee. At the time of her death she was director of the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey.
She came to the forefront of N.J. politics in 2009 when she pushed the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission to change its policy regarding gender designation on driver’s licenses. Previously a person had to prove gender reassignment surgery before being allowed to change the sex. Siperstein made the process inclusive by requiring only the signature of a medical professional who could vouch for the person’s gender.
Siperstein’s advocacy also resulted in Gov. Phil Murphy signing in July 2018 the “Babs Siperstein Law,” which simplified the process for changing gender on birth certificates and other government documents.
Her outspoken support of transgender rights earned her many allies in state government.
“In the long and proud history of New Jersey’s LGBTQ community, few voices spoke with the power and passion of Babs Siperstein,” said Murphy in a statement. “She was a tremendous advocate and good friend and was never shy to push us to open our hearts and minds, and to move our thinking ever forward.”
He added, “We should all take great comfort in how far we have come in the fight for equality and dignity under the law — and the fights that have been won in no small part because of Babs’ leadership. And, in her memory, we will continue to move forward.”
State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg wrote on nj.com that Siperstein’s “pursuit of equality and justice led her to the apex of this country’s institutions with one unabashed and uncompromising message: equal rights and equal protections under the law, for all.”
Schreiber called Siperstein “very understated and unassuming,” which belied her powerful impact.
“Every Democratic office we went to on the Hill, everything just stopped when she walked in,” he said. “They all knew her well.” Schreiber also said she had a great sense of humor and was proud of her family.
“Her loss really leaves a big hole in the world,” he said.
Siperstein was a longtime member of Congregation Beth Mordecai in Perth Amboy. She had her Hebrew name changed in a 2008 ceremony from Eliezer Banish to Baila Chaya, taking the Hebrew middle name of her late wife, Carol, who had died seven years earlier after 34 years of marriage and supported her through her gender transition.
“Babs was such a force of love and determination,” said Sara Metz, Beth Mordecai’s rabbi since 2017. “Having that Jewish name change ceremony had a great impact on her soul. She just didn’t need to be Babs in the public world. She needed that Hebrew name to be her own true self.”
Metz said she consulted with other rabbis throughout the country in writing her eulogy for Siperstein and was impressed by how many lives she impacted.
“Her heart was so big it was as if she could hug everyone in her grasp,” said Metz. “Her loss leaves a big hole in the world. She was a source of goodness and light.”
Born in Jersey City, Siperstein moved to Edison 40 years ago. She was the owner/president of Siperstein’s, a paint and wallcovering store in Fords. A graduate of Rutgers University, she later received an M.B.A. in accounting from Pace University.
Siperstein formerly served as president of the Regional Conservative Hebrew School of Northern Middlesex County.
She is survived by her partner, Dorothy Crouch of New York City; her daughter, Jana (David) Siperstein-Szucs of Woodbridge; two sons, Jeffrey (Lisa) of Lake Worth, Fla., and Jared of Scotch Plains; a sister, Sherry Grosky of Bridgewater; and five grandchildren.
Services were held Feb. 6 with arrangements by Flynn and Son Funeral Homes in Fords. Memorial contributions may be made to the Barbra Siperstein Endowed Scholarship at Middlesex County College in Edison.