Amanda Gorman’s faith meets Esther’s courage to commemorate a Purim story of resilience

By Student Rabbi Caitlin Brazner

Barely one month ago, this country exercised one of its more profound and significant rituals: the peaceful transfer of power from one political leader to the next.

The inauguration of a new president is a shining example of democratic excellence and a testament to our nation’s devotion to the groundbreaking ideals enshrined in our Constitution.

This year’s Inauguration Day proved no exception. Though threatened two weeks earlier by insurrectionist violence at the Capitol, the peaceful events of Jan. 20, 2021, affirmed Americans’ unflagging commitment to our democratic ideals.

Inaugural address sounds call for hope

Among the many fine speakers at the inauguration, one in particular stood out — 22-year-old Amanda Gorman.

Gorman, honored in 2017 as National Youth Poet Laureate, delivered a stirring six-minute inaugural address that spoke to the complicated nature of this moment.

Amidst a deadly global pandemic, racial inequality, social unrest and severe political polarization, Gorman sounded a clarion call for hope and perseverance.

She said,

When day comes we ask ourselves,
Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We’ve braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished

‘We will rebuild, reconcile and recover’

Closing out her address, Gorman offered these words:

We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
Conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
But what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
We must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
So we can reach out our arms
To one another…

…We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see
if only we’re brave enough to be it

We have weeds to pull, seeds to plant

Ken Yehi Ratzon — let it be so.

“A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished…”

The faith Gorman shows in us, in America, is the kind of faith we all should muster as we step into this new day.

To be clear, the slate isn’t clean. Even with inspiration and and an inauguration, we cannot forget that which has come before.

Even with inspiration and and an inauguration, we cannot forget that which has come before.

We have sown and reaped the seeds of inequality, prejudice, anger, loss and mistrust for years. We have many weeds to pull.

Yet, Gorman’s powerful words remind us that we can plant new seeds. We can choose to believe in the potential of the great American project and strive for understanding, empathy, courage and mercy.

We can choose to attempt teshuva where needed and offer forgiveness when able.

Salvation survived all evidence to the contrary

We, as Jews, will soon celebrate Purim, a holiday that commemorates Esther’s and Mordecai’s triumph over the evil machinations of the king’s adviser, Haman.

This topsy-turvy tale is sometimes referred to as a “Jewish opposite day” — a celebration of an improbable outcome that, despite all evidence, resulted in salvation for the Jewish people.

From Esther we can learn courage to stand up and do what is right even when the choice is difficult.

Believe in our ability to create a “more perfect union” that values justice, equality and compassion for citizen and stranger alike.

From Mordecai we can learn faith to believe in the potential for positive outcomes and work toward those goals in partnership with others.

Purim at its core is a holiday about resilience and belief.

This spring, I invite you to believe in America. Believe in this great democracy that boldly strives for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all.

Believe in our ability to create a “more perfect union” that values justice, equality and compassion for citizen and stranger alike.

Believe, just as Esther and Mordecai and Amanda do.

Student Rabbi Caitlin Brazner will serve UHC Terre Haute during the second half of the 2020-21 academic year.

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