Religious traditions can be slow to adapt to social progress and inclusivity, but since the 1980s, contemporary Passover customs have opened up seats at the seder table for queer and marginalized individuals.
Reflecting upon the Jewish people's liberation from slavery in Egypt, these five seder additions not only probe the need for universal freedom and equality, but raise questions about our unique roles in fighting for justice.
Why will this seder be different from all other seders? Because we're breaking matzah and diving deep.
Put an orange on the seder plate.
A seder plate is filled with all sorts of peculiar goodies (lamb shank, horseradish, the cinnamon-y deliciousness that is charoset!), but an orange is, traditionally, nowhere in site. This shifted in the early 1980s when Susannah Heschel, a Jewish feminist scholar, placed the fruit at the center of her seder plate to symbolize the fruitfulness of the Jewish community when queer and marginalized people are welcomed; spitting out the seeds is also supposed to represent the act of repudiating discrimination. (However, rumor once had it that the orange appeared because a man told Heschel "a woman belongs on the bimah [prayer podium] like an orange belongs on the seder plate.")
Spill the tea to the "four allies."
CSA Images/Mod Art Collection
Before launching into the four questions, it's customary to assign four children (or young people) at the seder the following roles: the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who does not know how to ask. It's not lost on some seder attendees the harshness of these descriptors—so why not reframe the conversation?
Instead of four children, Keshet, a Jewish LGBT organization, designates four allies: the ally who asks what queer means, the ally who stands up for a friend, the ally who speaks up about equality, the ally who comes out as an advocate to move equality forward. Discuss how you must embody more than just one of these archetypes in order to effectively engage today's intersectional, social-cultural issues.
Pose four questions about activism.
Complete the standard four questions if you have a soft spot for tradition (we get it), but then discuss the relevance of Passover today: It's a holiday centered around freedom and equality, two rights many Americans are struggling to obtain.
Have your four allies pose pointed inquiries about activism: What social movements have you stood up for since last Passover? Which plights can Jewish people empathize with and help support? What does it mean to be an ally for individuals who are fighting for a cause you can't directly identify with (#TimesUp, DACA and the future of Dreamers, Black Lives Matter, etc.)? What risks are we taking and will continue to take to improve our activism before next Passover?
Discuss queer history over the four cups of wine.
There are a variety of interpretations as to why four glasses of wine are drunk at the seder, but take the opportunity to divide queer history into four parts to discuss. As adapted from The Stonewall Seder, use the first cup to engage late 19th and early 20th century history, including the work of Magnus Hirschfeld, a prominent Jewish doctor, who's largely credited for organizing the first gay rights organization. Cup two can move into the mid-20th century and focus on the idea of uprising, concentrating discussion on the Stonewall Riots and revolutionary trans activists like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
The next two cups move into the later half of the 20th century and beyond: The third will honor the many LGBT people lost during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, recalling the founding of the Gay Men's Health Crisis and Queer Justice League. Lastly, the fourth cup can hone in on the '90s through today, celebrating achievements like life-saving HIV/AIDS medications and marriage equality, while also looking toward the future and the work that must be done within exceptionally marginalized queer communities.
Leave out a filled cup to honor queer generations of the past and future.
In addition to leaving a cup of wine out for Elijah the Prophet—who is supposed to arrive as an unknown guest and announce the coming of the Messiah—imbue this cup with an additional, less Biblical meaning: Let it symbolize the queer generations of the past and the future. According to the Pride Freedom Seder Haggadah, the empty cup both recalls the LGBT people who were persecuted for their identities and unable to live openly, while acknowledging the many Jewish institutions that are still unaccepting of queer Jews. The cup is also forward looking: Liberation is not yet complete, and the next generation will help fill the cup by fighting for the freedom and equality of all people.
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