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March 23, 2018 by

What the Passover Story Can Teach Us About Inclusion Riders

Act as though you are redeemed already.

Jews are familiar with this idea. Every day, in our morning prayers, we say the blessing “ga’al Yisrael” thanking God for having redeemed Israel, in past tense. I remember Rabbi Chuck Sheer, the Hillel rabbi at Columbia, pointing this out to me. We utter the blessing with confidence, as though it has happened, when of course we know we are living in a far from perfected and redeemed world. In historical time, Jews believe that we were redeemed from Egypt, but in terms of the present… let’s say that there are no governments currently ruling who should in power were we in a fully redeemed world.

During the Passover story itself, who showed the most initiative and kicked the whole event off? Don’t tell me Moses, because during Women’s History Month that is not the only acceptable answer. 

Actually, it was the midwives who performed the first act of civil disobedience. They defied the orders of the seemingly all powerful Pharaoh. Yet, once Pharaoh was defied, it was in fact discovered that he lacked power. There is a midrash about Miriam arguing with her father, Amram, over the decree that all the Jewish men should separate from their wives. She tells her father that since you are righteous, your word will be upheld, but Pharoah, who is wicked, will not necessarily have his word upheld (Exodus Rabbah 1:13). Miriam acts as though she is living in a redeemed world where the righteous can say things and make them so, but the wicked cannot. Fantasy? Perhaps, but acting as though something is so can be a sure way to help make it come about.

Sometimes having power is a matter of realizing that you are both possessed of it and that you are going to use it. 

At the recent Academy Awards ceremony, the recipient of the Best Actress award, Frances McDormand, asked all the female nominees in the auditorium to stand. She gave her speech and left the assembled throngs of viewers, both present in the room and watching live on television, with two words: “inclusion rider,” which she refused to explain. This led journalists to scrambling to figure out her meaning. 

According to the Washington Post, “An inclusion rider is a stipulation that the cast and/or the crew in a film reflect real demographics, including a proportionate number of women, minorities, LGBTQ individuals and people with disabilities. Big-name actors who have leverage in negotiations could put this stipulation into their contracts and drastically change representation in film.” The first person to propose such a remedy to underemployment of women was Professor Stacy L Smith of the University of Southern California in a TED talk in October 2016.

As a star, McDormand could have been agitating for more inclusion on the sets of films she has been working with all along, or at least since she won her first Academy Award for Fargo in 1996. But, though she all along theoretically had the power to demand change, she has not used it until now. 

This season, in light of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, McDormand is demanding that Hollywood act as though it were already redeemed. If all the stars with the power to do so required that women be adequately represented in the movie-making profession, it would have happened years ago.  Let us work to make it happen now. 

Really, sometimes the best way to behave may be to follow the lead of the women who brought drums with them (Exodus 15:20) on their way out of Egypt. Despite the fact that they were still slaves while packing that matzah dough and other provisions for leaving Egypt, these women were willing to think ahead to a time when they would celebrate. According to the Mekilta of Rabbi Ishmael, it was only because of their confidence that redemption happened. The Talmud agrees. Sotah 11b tells us that because of the merit of the women Israel was liberated from Egypt.

Let us continue to act confident in the arrival of a better world, while performing the necessary human action to bring it about. We begin each day stating that we have already experienced redemption—our task for the rest of the day is to continue to make it possible and bring our drums wherever we go!


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.