Child Sacrifice: Playing Sarah

Jake Goodman
September 22, 2011
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I understand the Akedah, the story of the binding of Isaac, in the context of a people beginning to break away from an age-old tradition of child sacrifice.  Science played little role in the world in which they lived.  What caused earthquakes?  Gods.  What caused storms? Gods.  What caused famine?  Disease?  Pestilence?  War?  Gods.  What could one do to gain any sense of control over the chaos of life?  Appease the the gods.  How?  Offer up as a sacrifice the thing that you loved more than anything else:  your child.  Let the gods know:  we understand how insignificant we truly are, how completely at your mercy we are, how much we desire to be in your favor.  What could be more important than this?  Our survival as a human race depends on it.  (The stakes are Battlestar-Gallactica-high.)

Somehow, a shift occurred. For some reason—it seems incomprehensible—some people decided that they were no longer willing to sacrifice their children to the gods – not even if it was to the one true God.  Perhaps too many famines failed to end.  Perhaps they had lost too many children.  Perhaps too many lost their own brothers and sisters, and refused to visit the sins of their parents upon their own children.

Eventually, the tribal leaders faced a crossroads:  insist upon child sacrifice and face losing support of the people, or re-frame the narrative away from child sacrifice to keep the people, but do it in a way that is sure to please the one true God.  We know which road they took.

Today, we continue to sacrifice our children.  For many of us, it is more shameful to have gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT, or queer) kids than it is to reject them completely and throw them on the street like trash.  According to a report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, between 20-40% of all homeless youth identify as LGBT.  (Given the fact that only 3-5% of the general population identifies as LGB, this is especially alarming.)  Upon coming out, 50% of gay teens experienced a negative reaction and a full 26% were kicked out of home.  The Center for American Progress reports (in bold text to the right):

“Family rejection of gay and transgender youth often leads to attempted suicide. According to a 2009 study, gay youth who reported higher levels of family rejection in adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide than their gay peers who did not experience family rejection. They were also 5.9 times as likely to have experienced depression, 3.4 times as likely to have used illicit drugs, and 3.4 times as likely to have had unprotected sex.

“Suicide becomes more of a danger when a gay and/or transgender youth becomes homeless. Sixty-two percent of gay and transgender homeless youth attempt suicide compared to 29 percent of their heterosexual homeless peers.”

This is child sacrifice.  It is being practiced today.  But to what end?  To appease the gods.  Scientific advancements do not stop people from believing, or hoping, that they can do something, anything, to help tame the chaos of life.  Some still believe that homosexuality and, by extension, bisexuality and gender non-conformity are abominations because the Torah tells them so.  God tells them so.  Just as God told Abraham to sacrifice his one son — and to reject the other.

When will we reach our crossroads?  When will we have seen too many families ripped apart?  Lost too many children?  Too many brothers, sisters, cousins, friends?  When will we finally stop visiting the sins of our parents on our own children?  When will we finally, once and for all, reframe the sacred narrative away from child sacrifice, away from the rejection of our youth, and toward a healthier, fuller, more empathic life for all?

Until that time, we are all still living out the Akedah — and most of us are playing the role of Sarah:  unaware, excluded from the decision-making process, faultless.  Dying from grief.  Over and over again.  Until we can no longer pretend to be unaware.  Until we insert ourselves into others’ decision-making processes, no matter how uncomfortable.  Until we no longer believe that we are faultless doing nothing.

*One year ago, on September 22nd, 2010, Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after he learned that his roommate used a webcam to spy on him as he kissed another man in their dorm room.

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Jake Goodman is an LGTBQ activist, Jewish educator and performer. He holds an MA in Jewish Education with a specialization in Infomal and Communal Education from the Davidson School at JTS and a BFA in Acting from Emerson College. Jake has worked increasingly to advocate toward full equality for LGBT people. Jake is a founding member of Queer Rising, a grassroots organization that demands queer rights through direct action, is on a committee to confront homeless queer youth with the Ali Forney Center, and is currently working on a book. Jake is also a proud company member of Storahtelling, previously serving as Associate Director, and serves as senior faculty for the 14th Street Y's LABA fellowship. He has served as educator in various capacities at seminaries, synagogues, JCCs, camps and pre-schools around the country. In the theater world, Jake has performed across the country and internationally at The Berkshire Theater Festival, Actors Theater of Louisville, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Alma in Tel-Aviv.

1 Comment

  1. No pressure, but if anyone has any comments or questions – feel free to post them here! I’m happy to respond.

    -Jake Goodman

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