Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
This past summer I had the opportunity to be a part of the Religious Action Center’s (RAC) college internship program, Machon Kaplan. As part of my summer, my fellow participants and I decided to camp outside the Supreme Court the night before its final decision issuing day of the summer, the night before the infamous Hobby Lobby decision was handed down. We were all brimming with excitement at the idea of being able to actually sit inside the courtroom and see history being made right before our eyes by the Justices themselves.
When morning came, the line had grown from our group of about 30 people at the front of the line to likely over 200 stretching around the corner of the courthouse. Only the first 50 people are allowed inside the building, I was number 12.
After going through security we were sat in the back of the courtroom where we anxiously awaited the justices ruling. Personally, as an LGBTQ Jew, I remember thinking about all the possible implications this ruling could have on my own life. What could it mean if companies were granted the ability to have and hold a religious belief and affiliation? The case may have been directly about women’s health care, but indirectly had larger implications. As it is now history, the ruling came down in favor of Hobby Lobby. It asserted that for-profit companies could be treated as having a religious affiliation.
I will never forget how I felt sitting in that courtroom hearing the decision being read, and that feeling has risen back up in me this Passover season.
I had never in my life felt more like a second-class citizen, knowing that a ruling like this could open the gateways for companies to discriminate against LGBTQ people. At the same time, I felt a sense of wonderment and awe at simply being able to be in that room and hear such a monumental decision (positive or not).
During Passover, we, as Jews, think heavily on the ideas of freedom and equality within society. We recall how we were slaves in Egypt and treated as lesser. We also think about the miracle of the Exodus, of the Jews escaping from Egypt. With this recognition, we remember both joy and sorrow, similar to how I felt sitting in the courtroom. We rejoice in our freedom, in being lead to victory over our adversary in Egypt. However, we dare not forget that as we danced on the other side of the sea, people were dying behind us. We, as Jews, recall both the joy of being set free, but also the sadness of others dying, much like my feeling of elation at being present in the Supreme Court that day, but also knowing the hardship it would cause.
Passover is a holiday about not forgetting where we have come from, as well as looking towards the future. Its motifs are what drive us to be active proponents of civil rights—we were once oppressed ourselves.
In my home state of Indiana, where I grew up and still currently reside for college, I am seeing first hand the detrimental effects of the ruling passed down by the Supreme Court that day. Legislation has been passed allowing business to deny service and discriminate based on religious belief. These ideas of freedom and justice are ever so present at the moment in my life, and as we reach this Passover season I am reminded not just of where once were, but how much farther we still have to go.
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