Sam Harel Price, 21, died on March 24 following a suicide attempt on her 21st birthday.
A junior at Oberlin College, she was majoring in Jewish studies and hoped to become a rabbi.
Price, who grew up in Maplewood, celebrated becoming bar mitzva at Congregation Beth El in South Orange and graduated from Columbia High School in Maplewood. Last year she came out to her parents, Beth Dorogusker and Adam Price, as transgender.
In her memory, her parents, both psychologists, have created the Sam and Devorah Foundation for Trans Youth. (“Devorah” refers to the biblical figure whom Sam admired for her pursuit of justice.) They have filed for 501(c)(3) status, and have raised over $85,000 in under two weeks. Their goal is to create a safe space for transgender young people.
Eric Price of Manhattan, Sam’s uncle, described the family’s vision for the space as a “rejuvenating retreat” where trans youth can go for a couple of days or a few months to be with like-minded peers. They envision it, he said, in a non-urban setting where they would offer “life-affirming and identity-affirming” workshops and programs.
Transgender individuals have a 41 percent rate of attempted suicide, according to a 2014 study conducted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
At the funeral — held March 27 at Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman Suburban Funeral Chapel in Livingston — Sam’s mother referred to the courage of a parent eulogizing her child.
“I have only 1/1,000th of the courage that Sam had,” Dorogusker said. “Real courage is coming out as transgender to your family, friends, and the world. Courage is being a 5'11″ broad built man, putting on a bright blue sleeveless turquoise dress, jewelry, and carefully applied make-up, then walking down the block where you grew up to take the train into New York City to meet a friend.”
Sam’s parents are members of Kol Rina, an independent minyan in South Orange.
Sam attended Camp Modin, a private Jewish summer camp in Maine. She was active in USY, and recently Skyped with members of South Orange-Maplewood USY about being transgender. She spent a semester studying in Israel during high school through the Reform movement’s Eisendrath Israel Experience. At Oberlin in Ohio, she was active in both Hillel and Chabad. She lived in the Hillel dorm and organized a Jewish “queer fun day.” She spent several summers learning Hebrew locally with Miki Fine, whose husband, Cantor Perry Fine, officiated at the funeral.
In an e-mail to NJJN, Eric Price credited Sam’s maternal grandfather, Ben Dorogusker, with Sam’s love for Judaism. “Ben is the spiritual leader — the bulwark — of [the family’s] faith. He often recounted biblical and folk stories and [taught] talmudic and important points from the Torah to his grandchildren.” He added, “Ben and Sam had a great and beautiful bond. I think early on Sam recognized how Ben’s faith inspired my brother’s family and [was] an important element in developing her own strong connection” to Judaism.
In pursuit of her dream of becoming a rabbi, Sam interned with Rabbi Adina Lewittes of Sha’ar Communities — which promotes a pluralistic approach to building Jewish identity — and together they started an “un-masquerade” Purim Ball to provide LGBTQ teens a space “to shed the masks and disguise they too often feel pressured to wear,” as Lewittes put it.
This year, Sam was unable to attend the third annual Purim ball. Lewittes wrote, in a remembrance posted on the Sam and Devorah Foundation website, “Even as she lay far away from us, Sam’s spirit was all over that party: her artwork filled the publicity posters that went out throughout northern NJ, the vocabulary of sexual and gender diversity she compiled was taped up on the wall for all to learn from, and her courage and passion were pulsing through all these kids dancing, singing, laughing, and unselfconsciously celebrating a Jewish world of sexual and gender diversity.
“It was a moment of tragic irony…. As Sam’s life was ending, she was surely saving another’s.”
Lewittes concluded, “All Sam wanted to do, and at the heart of all she did, was to build a world from love.”
A memorial service for Sam is being planned at Oberlin.
Although the Sam and Devorah Foundation was created at the end of March, it is already reaching beyond the local community. Adam Price told NJJN in an e-mail that he received a message “from a family in Bozeman, Montana, who had a son named Sam. Sam came out as transgendered in January, and committed suicide in February. They heard about us through their rabbi.”
Sam is survived by her parents; her brother, Jonah; her maternal grandparents, Claire and Ben Dorogusker of New York City; and her paternal grandmother, Roslyn Price of Beachwood, Ohio.
Donations to the Sam and Devorah Foundation can be made at samdevorah.org.