Blog Post : "As If..." By Rabbinic Intern, Nikki DeBlosi

"As If..." By Rabbinic Intern, Nikki DeBlosi | erica.frankel | Mar 26, 2013

"As I prepare for Different from All Other Nights: NYU’s Annual Queer Seder at the Bronfman Center, lawyers on two sides of what has become a vitriolic and polarized debate over the legalization of marriages between persons of the same sex will argue their causes before the Supreme Court of the United States.

I confess that, when I think about gay marriage, I think selfishly. I think about my own partner of fifteen years: we have a ketubah (Jewish marriage contract), but no civil marriage. I think about our son: I was present at his birth, but his original birth certificate had only my partner’s name as parent. We spent time and (quite a bit of!) money obtaining what’s called a second-parent adoption so that I would be recognized as his legal parent in the eyes of the State (I am grateful, of course, for the opportunity to obtain those rights and responsibilities). When it comes to the legalization of gay marriage, I think selfishly. 

It’s easy to stand up for marriage equality when you’re talking about your own family. Your partner. Your child.

Perhaps you already know where I’m going with this: Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and his celebrated (infamous?) reversal of opinion on gay marriage—from opposition to support—because he learned that his own son is gay. Many pundits and commentators—indeed many of my own friends (you know who you are…)—have acknowledged Senator Portman’s act as one of love. And rightly so. A father who loves his son stands up for him. But, what many of us also recognize are the limitations and dangers that the Senator’s actions imply: I care about the rights of my family—and no one else’s. As one online commenter quipped, “The best thing that could happen to such politicians is that they discover minority blood in their lineages, experience mental illnesses, realize their hired help are illegal immigrants, or have family who benefit from social programs.”

It’s kind of an Ahasueros move, if you think about it. You remember Ahaseuros—from the Scroll of Esther that we read just a few weeks ago on Purim. He’s the bumbling king who learns that his beautiful and obedient new wife Esther is actually one of them: a Jew! Knowing that the woman he loves is Jewish changes Ahaseuros’s mind about his own edict to annihilate the Jewish people. His love overrides his prejudices.

At our seder table this Tuesday night, a few students will share their coming out stories. We will celebrate their bravery, lament the discrimination they faced and continue to face, and give thanks for the family members (inherited and chosen) who support them with the unconditional love we all deserve from our families. I know I will find these stories moving and inspiring. And I know I will understand the crucial role that coming out has played and will continue to play in changing minds, in changing the culture.

But Purim cannot be the only model. It’s not a model for lasting change. It puts the burden on LGBTQI folks to be vulnerable and brave—as Esther was. But most insidiously of all, it assumes that we cannot support the rights of “Others” unless and until we can consider them our own. Must every single Ahasueros find his Esther?
Thankfully Jewish tradition gives us another model. Balancing the importance of honesty and bravery—the importance of coming out—that we learn from Queen Esther, the Jewish tradition gives us Passover. The holiday of as if:

בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת־עַצְמוֹ, כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרָיִם

B’chol dor va-dor chayav adam lirot et atzmo k’ilu hu yatza mi-Mitzrayim.—“In every generation a person is obligated to see himself as if he had gone out from Egypt.”

כְּאִלּוּ K’ilu—as if.

In his weekly podcast, Dan Savage, sex and relationship advice columnist and creator of the “It Gets Better” Project, called Senator Portman’s argument a “failure of the moral imagination.”

We might expect the Passover haggadah to emphasize our personal, familial, historical experience with enslavement. And it does. We recall the Torah’s oft-repeated dictum: “You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). But our tradition knows that the direct experience of oppression cannot be the sole moral motivation to oppose the oppression we see—and sometimes inflict—in the world around us. Our seder invites us to imagine. To act as if.

In other words, it is precisely an act of imagination that our Passover seder asks of us. It does not ask us to recall our own bondage in Egypt so many ages ago. It obligates each of us to imagine that we had been enslaved in bitter bondage, and liberated by God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm. It invites us to imagine that awesome—terrible and overwhelming and miraculous—moment when the sea split, revealing dry land.

So this year, as the Supreme Court Justices ponder the arguments they will have heard on Monday and on Tuesday, let us imagine a world in which each Ahaseuros is indeed married to an Esther. Let us act as if our moral precepts demand ethical treatment of those Others around us. Let us act as if our fate were bound up in the fate of those around us—not just our own sons, our own daughters, our own children, but all those Others who cry out for freedom. For in every sense that matters, it is.  Blog can be found here.