Rabbi Avi Weinstein

What Esther Teaches Us About Bobby Jindal’s Makeover

In Bobby Jindal, Esther Rabba, Passing on March 4, 2009 at 3:02 pm

The Daily Beast has an interesting article about Bobby Jindal’s discomfort with his Indian roots. The conflict elucidated is one familiar to any ethnic, or racial minority. For him, assimilation into the American dream meant embracing a new religion, Catholicism, and a name change. Louisiana is an overwhelmingly Catholic state, and you can’t pick a more “acceptable” name than Bobby.

Queen Esther also hid her background, only to courageously come forward at a critical moment. She did it, at great risk to herself, to save her people. Both share the fear that they would not be accepted for who they really were, but Jindal who now claims his background cynically, is not in the same league as Esther. Jindal became a good ol’ boy from Louisiana, totally alien from his Indian roots and even his name. Esther may have been passing, but she always knew who she was. During this festival of masks, deceptions and hidden miracles, I recommend the book Passing When People Can’t be Who They Are by Brooke Kroeger.

Stripping an identity is a painful process that must leave invisible scars. The awkwardness of Jindal’s speech was not only one of style, but of one who was reclaiming an identity that he had intentionally discarded. We were watching someone who was not comfortable in literally his own skin. Compare his facility with facts and figures to the one personal speech he has given. It is hard to give of one’s self, when the concept of self is so conflicted.

Esther was a hero. Jindal is a tool.

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