Purim: A Coming Out Holiday

Tonight marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday Purim. We celebrate the heroic deeds of Queen Esther and her uncle, Mordechai, who together helped save the Jewish community from destruction. Last year we published an editorial in the New York Metro Newspaper that Purim is in many ways a story about a successful interfaith marriage. On the eve of destruction, Ahasuerus, the King of Persia, found out that his wife was Jewish and called the whole thing off. We said this aspect of the story “reminds us of the importance of embracing our Jewish heritage, and it also offers an opportunity to reflect on the state of inclusion for the thousands of interfaith families around the world.”

This year, let’s look at Purim in a different light. When Queen Esther admitted to her husband the King that she was Jewish, she was “coming out.” She was responding to oppression, and it took a lot of courage for her to admit who she was. But when she did, she was accepted and welcomed by the King. This message has inspired many in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Jewish community, and it can serve as a good lesson in inclusion for many Jewish institutions today.

According to an article in the New York Jewish Week, a recent study out of the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver called “Diversity and LGBT Inclusion” found that while a “large number of North American Jewish congregations say they want to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews in their community, this verbal support largely fails to translate into active welcome.”

The study suggests a concrete inclusive message can be something even as small as a rainbow flag sticker on a window, something to show that all who enter will be welcome. They also found that 41 percent of the congregations who “proactively reached out” to the LGBT community gained membership – only two percent reported a drop. Clearly the LGBT community wants to be involved. It’s up to us to let them know that our doors are open.

As we sing and dance tonight in celebration, we should remember that we’re here because Queen Esther had the courage to embrace her identity at a time when doing so had dire consequences. Whether it’s LGBT Jews, interfaith families, or anyone else on the periphery, let’s spend Purim thinking about how we can welcome all those who cast their lot with the Jewish people.

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