Exodus, Again

The Hebrew word for exodus is yetzi’ah— a mass departure, in the Torah, from Egypt. An emigration. An exit from a difficult place. Literally: to come out.

Celebrities, I think, give us a very distorted view of what it’s like to come out of the closet. People Magazine can tell us when ELLEN PAGE COMES OUT AS GAY, or when Ben Whishaw comes out as queer (and reveals that, uh, he’s been secretly married for a year. You go, Ben Whishaw.)

Which makes coming out seem so– singular. A lone event. You’re in the closet; you come out– after which, for better or worse, the process is over. As if it’s something enormous, all-encompassing. An exodus.

Of course it’s not nearly so simple as that. You come out to your mother in the living room one night, and the two of you cry together for hours; you come out to your father in the car, and he says, “‘Kay, we love you,” and keeps driving. You don’t ever officially come out to your friends, but you’re pretty sure they knowbecause no heterosexual talks about Keira Knightley the way you talk about Keira Knightley. You come out to the kids in your Law and Society class, angrily, in order to gain an advantage in political arguments that you end up losing anyway. Some people you accidentally come out to as the wrong sexuality (turns out you’re not lesbian, just confused). Some people you come out to in person; some people you come out to over text, or online. Some people you never come out to at all.

The Haggadah says, This year we are here; next year, may we be in the land of Israel. This year we are slaves; next year, may we be truly free.

You grow up in California; you spend your childhood at the oldest synagogue in Oakland. You go to a high school with a relatively high Jewish population, and then you move across the country to New York City, which is not exactly devoid of Jews itself.

And you never feel like you’re part of the majority—it’s as much a part of the Jewish identity as Hanukkah, to feel awkwardly, eternally, inescapably part of the Other, always the odd one out, always on the outside, looking in—but you feel safe, or as safe as you can feel. No one’s ever called you a slur. No one’s ever said anything anti-Semitic to your face. This year we are slaves, you say, next year may we be truly free, and you don’t know what that means.

Some days it seems like the Exodus is finally, totally over.

Other days it doesn’t.

Here’s what you do: you come out.

You come out. You come out, and you come out, and you keep coming out. You spend forty years in the desert; you spend four more in high school. You say, “Actually,” when your new roommate scoffs at the idea of people who keep kosher. You say the words “Kinsey three” to actual human beings who know what those words mean. You buy a box of matzah to share with your friends, and promise to teach them how to play dreidel at some point. You continue to talk about Keira Knightley the way you have, more or less, always talked about Keira Knightley.

The walls of the Red Sea are roaring around you. The wind is howling. Somewhere behind you, the armies of the Egyptians are charging towards you at full speed.

You come out.

Exodus sounds so simple—like a single event, like something that you can pin down to a single date. And there is a before when it comes to Exodus; there is a time when you had not even begun to leave Egypt.

Here is what Moses never told you: once you take your first steps towards the desert, you cannot return. Like Lot’s wife, you cannot even look back at the home you once knew. And the journey to Jerusalem, the journey to the city you were promised, the journey to the land flowing with milk and honey—the journey never ends.

If He had given us only forty years of wandering, instead of two thousand and more: dayenu.

So what do you do, when faced with this? What do you do, in the face of an eternal Exodus and a paradise that never comes? What do you do, when the violence flares again just when you thought it was gone, and the rain is pouring down in New York City, and the long parade of cars down Fifth Avenue vanishes, the gold-and-white train of headlights gone dark, your city flowing with milk and honey suddenly dry?

You come out.

L’shana haba’ah b’Yerushalayim. Next year, in Jerusalem.

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