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Grateful for the Progress (Vayetze – 12/07/19)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Grateful for the Progress
In a week of numerous national woes, we’d be amiss if we don’t notice some of the things to be proud of as well.
In Parshat Vayaitzei, we have the birth of 11 of the 12 Tribes of Israel. If we note the children’s names, many of them are about the women finding favor in their husband’s eyes or defining their own self-worth through having children.
Genesis 29
31 And the Lord saw that Leah was hated, so God opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.
32 And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben (“See- a son!”, for she said, “Because the Lord has seen my affliction, for now, my husband will love me.”
34 And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, for I have borne him three sons; therefore, his name is Levi (“Accompanying”).
Genesis 30
1 And Rachel saw that she had not borne any children to Jacob, and Rachel envied her sister, and she said to Jacob, “Give me children, and if not, I am dead.”
2 And Jacob became angry with Rachel, and he said, “Am I instead of God, Who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”
3 So she said, “Here is my maidservant Bilhah; come to her, and she will bear children on my knees, so that I, too, will be built up from her.”
22 And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and God opened her womb.
23 And she conceived and bore a son, and she said, “God has taken away my embarrassment.”
24 So she named him Joseph, saying, “May the Lord grant me yet another son!”
So here we have our Matriarchs whose sense of worth comes only from the children they bare. I would say this sentiment still pervades many mindsets and full societies even today.
Yet, look at the backlash to one Peleton commercial that aired early in the week. The ad, called “The Gift that Gives Back”, depicted a woman showing a video diary to her male partner of a year spent on the Peloton, which struck some viewers as sexist. Critics on social media said the ad made it seem like the woman was being pressured to keep her weight in check.
Peloton stock dropped as much as 10% because of the commercial, the highest intraday loss in two months.
Peleton’s reaction to criticism was to stay clear of the issue, instead they replaced it with a commercial showing an Asian man exercising and loving his bike.
One of the greatest and most important musicals perhaps ever to play on Broadway is Hamilton. It’s outstanding not only because of the sets, the dancing, the songs, and the message, but also how the message was imparted. It changed our way of thinking, by having people of different ethnicities play white Anglo-Saxon roles.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the playwright and star of the show, said that the portrayal of Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and other white historical figures by black and Hispanic actors should not require any substantial suspension of disbelief by audience members. “Our cast looks like America looks now, and that’s certainly intentional,” he said. “It’s a way of pulling you into the story and allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door. We’re telling the story of old, dead white men but we’re using actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience.”
As the number of Democratic candidates dwindles down, they are becoming increasing white and male. Nonetheless, this should give us hope, for change takes time. In these debates, we’ve heard from gay, female, Asian, Latino, black, New Age spiritualist and Jewish candidates.
As Miranda said about Hamilton, this primary represents the cross-section of America more fully than ever before. Perhaps it will be a white male that will be chosen as the DNC candidate, but we need to be patient with progress.
On Monday I was teaching our Daled and Hay classes and the discussion came to women’s roles. I mentioned how limited their grandmothers’ job prospects were when they were young. That even the great Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who graduated number one in her class from Columbia Law, couldn’t find a job when she finished school. Now she’s a Supreme Court Justice. It takes someone to break the mold, and then we see further changes in the years ahead.
The news and times may be discouraging but we should notice positivity when it occurs. The outburst over the Peleton commercial and the variety of DNC candidates should give us hope for the future. In our parsha, women were only valued for their ability to bear children; now valuing women for looking fit is considered sexist.
Progress is slow, but the train is moving.
Shabbat Shalom

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