The Wandering Is Over Haggadah

By JewishBoston


Table of Contents


Leader’s Guide

How To Use This Haggadah

A Seder for Everyone

The Order of the Seder


Kiddush (the blessing over wine)


Urchatz: Ritual hand-washing in preparation for the seder


Karpas: Dipping a green vegetable in salt water


Yachatz: Breaking the middle matzah

Maggid - Beginning

Maggid: Telling the story of Passover

-- Four Questions

The Four Questions

Answering Our Questions

-- Four Children

The Four Children

-- Exodus Story

Telling Our Story

-- Ten Plagues

The Ten Plagues

The Modern Plagues

-- Cup #2 & Dayenu


The Passover Symbols

In Every Generation

The Second Glass of Wine


Rachtza: Ritual hand-washing in preparation for the meal


Motzi matzah: The blessing over the meal and matzah


Maror: Dipping the bitter herb in sweet charoset


Koreich: Eating a sandwich of matzah and bitter herb

Shulchan Oreich

Shulchan oreich: Eating the meal!


Tzafoon: Finding and eating the afikoman


Bareich: Saying the blessing after the meal and inviting Elijah the prophet

The Third Glass of Wine

The Cup of Elijah


Hallel: Singing songs that praise God

The Fourth Glass of Wine


Nirtzah: Ending the seder and thinking about the future

Commentary / Readings

20 Table Topics for Your Passover Seder

Four Questions About Trans Rights and Identities

Four Questions About Anti-Semitism

Four Questions About Mental Health

Four Questions About Taking Notice of This Moment

Four Questions About Feminism

Four Questions About Labor Rights

Four Questions About Climate Change

Four Questions About LGBTQ Liberation

Four Questions About Racial Justice

Four Questions About Inclusion

Four Questions About Israel

Four Questions About Parenting Jewishly Today

Four Questions About Social Justice


Let My People Go

Chad Gadya


Leader’s Guide

Contributed by JewishBoston

Passover is a holiday celebrating and commemorating the Israelites’ liberation from slavery and their exodus from Egypt, as told in the beginning of the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible (and subsequently reinterpreted in several debatably good movies). Following the command that the story should always be taught to the next generation, Jews across time and space have celebrated this joyful holiday. As you might imagine, many aspects of the Passover celebration have withstood the millennia of observance, and many traditions have been added, taken away and changed over time. Now, the choice is yours.

This seder is generally designed to take about 45 minutes from start to dinner, and to be accessible to everyone. Make the experience your own by including additional readings or favorite family traditions. You can also create new traditions relevant for the guests with whom you will be sharing your seder.

You’ll notice the meal is right in the middle; if you just stop there, you’ll miss some of the best parts (including half the wine)! But be realistic—if you don’t think you and your guests will want to pick up the Haggadah again after the entrée, consider moving some of the second-half highlights to the pre-dinner slot.

Just as seders vary from household to household, so do leadership styles. Our recommendation is to encourage lots of participation; that way everyone is invested in the experience and there will be more lively conversation.

This Haggadah deliberately minimizes the role of the leader so every guest can participate at his or her comfort level. Take the time to make sure everyone at the seder introduces themselves and let them know they can participate as much or as little as they’d like.

As leader, though, you’re not completely off the hook! It’s your job to keep things moving forward and to help each person participate.


How To Use This Haggadah

Contributed by JewishBoston

Running the Seder

Once everyone is seated at the table, it may be helpful to provide a bit of information about Passover and its traditions, as well as set some expectations before launching into the seder. Explain how long you predict the seder will run, when you anticipate dinner to be and if there will be food served before dinner. 

It may also be helpful to discuss how you intend to handle participation in the seder. If you plan to go around the table, letting everyone read a paragraph, let your guests know how that will work. There’s not a lot of Hebrew in this Haggadah, but it’s helpful to let your guests know there is some and they can choose to read it if they know Hebrew or just read the English.

Here’s a list of supplies you’ll need to host the seder (keep reading for more detailed descriptions):

On the table:

  • Seder plate and symbolic food items
  • Plate with three pieces of matzah covered by a cloth or napkin
  • Wine or grape juice
  • Kiddush cup (any wine glass will do)
  • Elijah’s cup (any wine glass will do)
  • Small bowls of salt water
  • Plate with extra matzah
  • Cloth or napkin for wrapping the  afikoman
  • Prize for finding the  afikoman
  • Optional items:
    • Hard-boiled eggs
    • Veggies or other light foods to munch on during the seder
    • Interactive props (you can make your seder more engaging with things like toys, for example, to represent the 10 plagues)

At each chair:

  • Standard dinner place setting, with appetizer plate
  • Wine glass
  • Pillow for reclining


Hiding the  Afikoman

There are three pieces of matzah stacked on the table covered by a cloth or napkin. When indicated in the Haggadah, you will break the middle matzah into two pieces. The leader and/or host should wrap up the larger half and, at some point before the end of dinner, find a place to hide it. This piece is called the  afikoman , literally “dessert” in Greek. 

After dinner, the guests will have to hunt for the  afikoman  to wrap up the meal—and win a prize! Make sure to have a reward handy for the lucky winner; cash works but you can also be as creative as you want. Once the  afikoman  is found and redeemed, send it around the table so everyone can eat a small piece of it for dessert.


The Four Questions

The Four Questions are traditionally sung by the youngest participant at the seder. These questions are designed to help explain how the evenings of Passover are different from regular evenings. There’s a tune for these questions and often someone will know it. If you and/or your guests aren’t familiar with the Hebrew, just read them in English as you would the rest of the seder.  


Serving the Meal

No one should have to skip the seder because they’re stuck in the kitchen preparing the meal. Luckily, many great seder foods, from brisket to roast chicken to kugel to tzimmes, a traditional carrot dish, can be prepared ahead and left in a warm oven.

But you don’t need to wait to feed your guests until the meal portion of the Haggadah. The  Karpas – Deeping a green vegetable in salt water  section, which happens fairly early, was designed by rabbis as a way to work appetizers into the seder. After you’ve dipped your vegetables into salt water and said the corresponding blessing, consider bringing out a vegetable course, the gefilte fish or the boiled eggs. 


Setting the Table

First and foremost, Passover is a holiday, so don’t be shy about using a nice tablecloth and fancy china, or fun paper plates if that suits you best. One of the mainstays of celebrating Passover is not eating anything leavened, called  chametz  in Hebrew, for the duration of the holiday. This includes the most obvious: bread, cake, cookies and the like, as well as less obvious things, like corn products. As with anything in Judaism, there are many opinions and traditions about what is and is not acceptable to eat on Passover. You can be as strict or as lax as you’d like for your seder, but take the time to think about it when planning your dinner. Just as you would with any other meal you host, ask your guests if they have any dietary needs, and make sure they understand the Passover food rules you’ve decided on for this event. Some people keep their Passover meals extra safe from  chametz  by using specific plates only for Passover. So if you want to use paper goods instead of china, go ahead, whether in the name of being extra kosher for Passover or not wanting to wash a million dishes.


The Seder Plate

The seder plate holds most of the main symbols we talk about during the seder. There are many beautiful seder plates handed down through generations, and certainly many that are available for purchase with a wide variety of artistry and cost. A seder plate will usually have specific spaces, often named, for each item. Since there can be a bit of variation on what appears on a seder plate, some have five spaces, while others have six. Several things have been added in recent times to the seder plate (listed below) and are optional but certainly meaningful. Although there might not be a designated place for these items on the average seder plate, feel free to add them where they fit or just put them on the table.

Roasted egg ( Beitzah )

The roasted egg (yes, roasted!) symbolizes rebirth and springtime. Just as we grew into a free nation through our exodus from Egypt, the egg symbolizes growth and new life. Boil your egg first, then put it inside the oven (at about 350 degrees) and roast it until the shell starts to brown. (But if you use a simple boiled egg, no one is likely to know the difference.) Looking for a vegan substitute? Try plant seeds, an avocado pit or a large nut.

Bitter herb ( Maror )

Generally, this is horseradish, which embodies the bitterness of slavery. Traditionalists will tell you it must be the actual horseradish root. But many people use the chopped stuff from a jar, which can then do double-duty as a condiment for your gefilte fish. Note: A little horseradish goes on the seder plate, but everyone will eat a bit of bitter herb during the seder. You can either put it on individual plates or in a few little bowls on the table.

Chopped apples and nuts ( Charoset )

This is the fruit-based mixture that represents the mortar of bricks we laid as slaves in Egypt. It’s also sweet, like freedom. Just about every Jewish community in the world has its own take on  charoset , so if you’re feeling ambitious, Google different recipes and make a few! Note: Like the horseradish, just a little bit of  charoset  goes on the seder plate. Put most of it in bowls around the table so everyone can enjoy it during the seder. 

Shank bone ( Zeroah )

This is a symbol of the Passover lamb; our forefathers used its blood to mark their doorposts, and the angel of death passed over their homes in the Passover story. Often, you can ask your butcher for a piece of lamb shank bone. In the weeks leading up to Passover, kosher specialty stores will have shank bones available, but they can go fast. Before you put it on the plate, remember to roast it—you wouldn’t want raw animal parts on your table! (You can even throw it in the oven with the egg.) If you miss out or forget to purchase an actual lamb shank bone, you wouldn’t be the first to substitute a chicken leg bone. Want a vegetarian option? Steamed or roasted beets have a deep red color and serve as a popular alternative.

Lettuce ( Chazeret )

This is the one that sometimes gets left off, but the idea here is to use Romaine or a similarly bitter green, which takes on the symbolism of both the bitter herbs and the parsley, of slavery and renewal.


Optional modern additions

  • Orange for LGBTQ and gender equality
  • Artichoke heart for the inclusion of interfaith families
  • Fair-trade chocolate or cocoa beans for economic freedom (most of the world’s chocolate production relies on underpaid or slave laborers, often children)
  • Tomato for solidarity with those suffering from slavery, underpaid labor and oppressive working conditions in American agriculture
  • Olive for peace in the Middle East
  • Cashews for support of American troops
  • Banana for standing with refugees
  • Pinecone to call out for criminal justice reform


Other Items on the Table

Salt water

Since you need to dip the parsley in salt water, be sure to mix up little bowls of salt water and sprinkle them around the table.

Water for hand-washing

If you’re so inclined, you may want to have a pitcher and bowl on a side table for the ritual washing that takes place. If not, people can get up and wash at the sink. For a contemporary riff on the ritual, pass around moist towelettes or hand sanitizer.


For the seder itself, you’ll need three pieces of matzah on a plate, covered by a cloth or napkin. Unlike the items on the seder plate, you will eat this matzah at specific points in the seder. It’s traditional to use only plain matzah here, although some people choose their favorite flavor. Since many people love to munch on matzah, you could have an additional plate of it on the table.

Elijah’s Cup

Toward the end of the seder, it’s traditional to open the door to welcome in the prophet Elijah. If he does, in fact, come through your door, it’s probably a good idea to have some wine waiting for him in an extra glass. Some families have special, fancy wine goblets specifically made to be “Elijah’s Cup,” but any wine glass on the table not assigned to a guest will do. Some leaders fill Elijah’s Cup at the start of the seder; others wait until the part of the seder that specifically mentions Elijah.

Miriam’s Cup

Even though Miriam, the sister of Moses, plays an essential role in the Passover story, the traditional Haggadah text minimizes her by heavily focusing on the male figures. In the modern era and in progressive Judaism, there is great emphasis on egalitarianism and recognizing both our forefathers and foremothers. To celebrate Miriam’s contributions in the Exodus story, many have added a second cup. Miriam’s Cup is filled with water to symbolize Miriam’s well, which often provided much-needed water for the Israelites wandering in the desert after their exodus from Egypt. 

Happy hosting!


A Seder for Everyone

Contributed by JewishBoston

Tonight, we gather together to celebrate Passover. Passover is a holiday commemorating the Israelites’ liberation from slavery and their exodus from Egypt, as told in the beginning of the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible. Following the command that the story should always be taught to the next generation, Jews across time and space have celebrated this joyful holiday. As you might imagine, there are many aspects of the Passover celebration that have withstood the millennia of observance, and many traditions have been added, taken away and changed over time.

Tonight, we will eat a great meal together, enjoy four glasses (at least!) of wine, and tell the story of our ancestors’ liberation from slavery. We welcome all our guests to reflect with us on the meaning of freedom in each of our lives, traditions and histories. We will have the opportunity to consider our blessings, pledge to work harder at freeing those who still suffer, and try to cast off the things in our own lives that feel oppressive.

As we get started, get comfortable! Find a pillow to help you recline. In ancient times, eating while lounging on a pillow or couch was a sign of freedom. We anticipate this seder should take about 45 minutes from start to dinner. Enjoy!


The Order of the Seder

Contributed by JewishBoston

Our Passover meal is called a seder, which means “order” in Hebrew, because we go through 14 specific steps as we retell the story of the Israelites’ liberation from slavery. 

Some people like to begin their seder by reciting or singing the names of the 14 steps:

מַגִּיד     magid     Telling the story of Passover
רָחְצָה     rachtza     Ritual hand-washing in preparation for the meal
מוֹצִיא מַצָּה     motzi matzah     The blessing over the meal and matzah
מָרוֹר     maror     Dipping the bitter herb in sweet charoset
כּוֹרֵךְ     koreich     Eating a sandwich of matzah and bitter herb
שֻׁלְחָן עוֹרֵךְ     shulchan oreich     Eating the meal!
צָפוּן     tzafoon     Finding and eating the afikoman
בָּרֵךְ     bareich     Saying grace after the meal and inviting Elijah the prophet
הַלֵּל     hallel     Singing songs that praise God
נִרְצָה     nirtzah     Ending the seder and thinking about the future


Kiddush (the blessing over wine)

Contributed by JewishBoston

All Jewish celebrations, from holidays to weddings, include wine as a symbol of our joy—not to mention a practical way to increase that joy. The seder starts with wine and then gives us three more opportunities to refill our cups and drink. 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן:     

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.

We praise you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

We praise you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, who created a heritage that endures through the ages, ever changing and ever meaningful. We thank You for the many opportunities for holiness as we celebrate this joyous holiday of matzah together, remembering the liberation, the Exodus from Egypt. We praise you, God, who makes us holy in our celebration.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה:

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, she-hechiyanu v’key’manu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh.

We praise you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this joyous season.

Drink the first glass of wine!

As in many world cultures and religions, water is a symbol of purification in Judaism. We will wash our hands twice during our seder—now, with no blessing, to get us ready for the rituals to come, and then again later, with a blessing, to prepare us for the meal, which Judaism thinks of as a ritual in itself. (The Jewish obsession with food is older than you thought!) 

To wash your hands, you don’t need soap, but you do need a cup to pour water over them. Pour water on each of your hands three times, alternating between them.

Celebrating Passover gives us all the opportunity to pause and reflect on what brings us together. 

Discussion Question

Let’s take a moment to consider what we hope to get out of our evening together. Go around the table and share one hope or expectation you have, or something you want to learn at tonight’s seder.

Passover, like many Jewish holidays, combines the celebration of an event from Jewish history and memory, as well as the continued cycle of our natural world. As we remember the Israelites’ liberation, we also welcome the beginning of spring, the budding of new plants and rebirth happening in the world around us. We now take a vegetable, representing our joy at the dawning of spring after our long, cold winter. Many use a green vegetable such as parsley or celery, but some people, primarily from Eastern Europe, have a tradition of using a boiled potato since greens were harder to come by at Passover time. Whatever symbol of spring and sustenance we’re using, we now dip it into salt water, a symbol of the tears the Israelites shed as slaves. Before we eat it, we recite a short blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה:     

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree ha-adama.

We praise you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruits of the earth.

We look forward to spring and the reawakening of flowers and greenery. They haven’t been lost, just buried beneath the snow, getting ready for reappearance when we most need them. 

Discussion Question

We all have aspects of ourselves that sometimes get buried under the stresses of our busy lives. What has this winter taught us? What elements of our own lives do we hope to revive this spring?

There are three pieces of matzah stacked on the table. We now break the middle matzah into two pieces. Our host will wrap up the larger of the pieces and, at some point between now and the end of dinner, hide it. This piece is called the afikoman, literally “dessert” in Greek. After dinner, all of us will have to hunt for the afikoman, and whoever finds it will win a prize!

We eat matzah, unleavened bread, to remind us that when the Israelites were finally freed, they fled Egypt so quickly that their bread did not have time to rise. 

Uncover and hold up the three pieces of matzah and say:

This is the bread of poverty that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat; all who are needy come and celebrate Passover with us. This year we are here; next year we will be in Israel. This year we are slaves; next year we will be free.

While we recline and enjoy our Passover celebration, we are reminded not only of the history that we commemorate, but also of our obligation to make our world better for those still enslaved, whether in bondage or by poverty or circumstance. We are commanded to seek out those who are hungry, to share in our bread of affliction, as we seek to ensure that the story of slavery is our past, not our present or future.

Discussion Question

Unfortunately, slavery exists in many forms in our world and for each of us. How can we take these words to heart this Passover?

Pour your second glass of wine.

The Haggadah doesn’t tell the story of Passover in a linear fashion. We don’t hear of Moses being found by the daughter of Pharaoh; actually, we don’t hear much of Moses at all. Instead, we get an impressionistic collection of songs, images and stories of both the Exodus and from Passover celebrations through the centuries. Some say that minimizing the role of Moses keeps us focused on the miracles God performed for us. Others insist that we keep the focus on the role that every member of the community has in bringing about positive change.

-- Four Questions

The Four Questions

Contributed by JewishBoston

The formal telling of the story of Passover is framed as a series of questions and answers. The tradition that the youngest person at the seder asks the questions reflects the importance of sharing the story, symbolism and purpose with the next generation. Asking questions is a core tradition in Jewish life; the rabbis who formatted the seder sought to teach this important story through these questions.

מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילוֹת?

Ma nishtana halaila hazeh mikol haleilot?

Why is this night different from all other nights?

שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת
אָֽנוּ אוֹכְלִין חָמֵץ וּמַצָּה.
הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלּוֹ מַצָּה:    

Shebichol haleilot
anu ochlin chameitz u-matzah. 
Halaila hazeh kulo matzah.

On all other nights we eat both leavened bread and matzah. 
Tonight, we only eat matzah.

שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת
אָֽנוּ אוֹכְלִין שְׁאָר יְרָקוֹת.
הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה מָרוֹר:    

Shebichol haleilot
anu ochlin shi’ar yirakot.
Halaila hazeh maror.

On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables. 
Tonight, we eat bitter herbs.

שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת
אֵין אָֽנוּ מַטְבִּילִין אֲפִילוּ פַּֽעַם אֶחָת.
 הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה שְׁתֵּי פְעָמִים:    

Shebichol haleilot
ain anu matbilin afilu pa-am echat. 
Halaila hazeh shtei pa-amim.

On all other nights we aren’t expected to dip our vegetables one time.
Tonight, we do it twice.

שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת
אָֽנוּ אוֹכְלִין בֵּין יוֹשְׁבִין וּבֵין מְסֻבִּין.
 הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלָּֽנוּ מְסֻבִּין:    

Shebichol haleilot
anu ochlin bein yoshvin uvein m’subin.
Halaila hazeh kulanu m’subin.

On all other nights we eat either sitting normally or reclining. 
Tonight, we recline.

עֲבָדִים הָיִינו.
עַתָּה בְּנֵי חוֹרִין:    

Avadim hayinu.
Ata b’nei chorin.

We were slaves.
Now we are free.

We were slaves to Pharaoh, and God took us from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. Had God not brought our ancestors out of captivity, then even today we and our children and our grandchildren would still be slaves. Even if we were all wise and the most knowledgeable scholars, we would still be obligated to tell the story of the Exodus.

-- Four Children

The Four Children

Contributed by JewishBoston

Jewish tradition tells of four children with unique ways of understanding Passover: the wise child, the wicked child, the simple child and the silent child. Yet we know that no child is all wise, all wicked, all simple or incapable of asking anything. At different points in our lives, we have been each of these children.

What does the wise child say? 
The wise child asks diligently, “What are the testimonies and laws which God commanded you?”

What does it mean to be the wise child? 
It means to be fully engaged in the community, to know the limits of your understanding, to be able to search for the answers to that which you do not know. 

At different points in our lives, we have been this child—inquisitive, caring, eager to learn and to understand, wiling to ask for information we do not have, hopeful that an answer can be found.

What does the wicked child say? 
The wicked child asks, “What does this service mean to you?”
To you and not to himself or herself. 

What does it mean to be the wicked child? 
It means to stand apart from the community, to feel alienated and alone, depending only on yourself, to have little trust in the people around you to help or answer your questions.

At different points in our lives, we have been this child—detached, suspicious, challenging.

What does the simple child say? 
The simple child asks, “What is this?”

What does it mean to be a simple child? 
It means to see only one layer of meaning, to ask the most basic of questions, to be too innocent or impatient to grasp complicated questions.

At different points in our lives, we have all been this child—simply curious and innocently unaware of the complexities around us.

What about the child who doesn’t know how to ask a question? 
Help this child ask. Start telling the story: “It is because of what God did for me in taking me out of Egypt.”

What does it mean to be the silent child? 
This can be the indifferent child, no longer willing to engage. It can be the passive child, who just shows up. Or it can be the child whose spiritual life is based on faith, not rational arguments, the child who hears something deeper than words, who knows how to be silent and to listen to the surrounding silence.

At different points in our lives, we have all been this child—unable to articulate, quiet, searching for the right words, listening in silence.

Discussion Question

We have asked the cleverest of questions; we have challenged provocatively; we have simply wanted to know the answer; and we have been so confused that we could not speak. We have been all of these children. Which one are you tonight?

-- Exodus Story

Telling Our Story

Contributed by JewishBoston

Our story starts in ancient times with Abraham, who followed God’s command and became the very first believer. The idea of one God, invisible and all-powerful, inspired him to leave his family and begin a new people in Canaan, the land that would one day bear his grandson Jacob’s adopted name, Israel. 

God made a promise to Abraham that his family would become a great nation, but this promise came with a vision of the troubles along the way: “Your descendants will dwell for a time in a land that is not their own, and they will be enslaved and afflicted for four hundred years; however, I will punish the nation that enslaved them, and afterwards they shall leave with great wealth.”

Raise your glass of wine and say:

וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ וְלָֽנוּ.

V’hi she-amda l’avoteinu v’lanu.

This promise has sustained our ancestors and us.

For not only one enemy has risen against us to annihilate us, but in every generation, there are those who rise against us. But God saves us from those who seek to harm us.

Put down your glass of wine.

In the years our ancestors lived in Egypt, our numbers multiplied, and soon the family of Jacob became the People of Israel. Pharaoh and his advisers became alarmed by this great nation flourishing within their borders, so they enslaved us. We were forced to perform hard labor, perhaps even build pyramids. Our oppressors feared that even as slaves, the Israelites might grow strong and overthrow them, so Pharaoh decreed that Israelite baby boys should be drowned in the Nile.

But God heard the cries of the Israelites. And God brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and outstretched arm, with great awe, miraculous signs and wonders. God brought us out not by angel or messenger, but through God’s own intervention. 

-- Ten Plagues

The Ten Plagues

Contributed by JewishBoston

As we rejoice at the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery, we acknowledge this freedom was hard-earned. We regret that freedom came at the cost of others’ suffering, for we are all made in the image of God. Therefore, we take away just a little bit of our joy of wine by placing a drop of it on our plates as we recite each of the Ten Plagues. 

Dip a finger or a spoon into your wine glass to get a drop for each plague.

דָּם    dam     Blood
צְפַרְדֵּֽעַ     tzfardeiya     Frogs
כִּנִּים     kinim     Lice
עָרוֹב     arov     Beasts
דֶּֽבֶר     dever     Cattle disease
שְׁחִין     sh’chin     Boils
בָּרָד     barad     Hail
אַרְבֶּה     arbeh     Locusts
חֹֽשֶׁךְ     choshech     Darkness
מַכַּת בְּכוֹרוֹת     makat b’chorot     Death of the firstborn

Discussion Question

The Ten Plagues wreaked havoc on the country of Egypt and all its inhabitants, including the mighty Pharaoh. They ruined livestock and agriculture, water and health, staples in ancient society as well as today. While the plagues in our story have a clear message and purpose, they are still often things that plague our world today. What else might you add to this list? What are the plagues of our day? What work can we do to rid our world of them?

-- Ten Plagues

The Modern Plagues

Contributed by JewishBoston

The Passover Haggadah recounts ten plagues that afflicted Egyptian society. In our tradition, Passover is the season in which we imagine our own lives within the story and the story within our lives. Accordingly, we turn our thoughts to the many plagues affecting our society today. Our journey from slavery to redemption is ongoing, demanding the work of our hearts and hands. Here are ten “modern plagues”:

In any given year, about 3.5 million people are likely to experience homelessness, about a third of them children, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. A recent study by the U.S. Conference of Mayors showed the majority of major cities lack the capacity to shelter those in need and are forced to turn people away. We are reminded time and again in the Torah that the Exodus is a story about a wandering people, once suffering from enslavement, who, through God’s help, eventually find their way to their homeland. As we inherit this story, we affirm our commitment to pursue an end to homelessness.

About 49 million Americans experience food insecurity, 16 million of them children. While living in a world blessed with more than enough food to ensure all of God’s children are well nourished, on Passover we declare, “Let all who are hungry come and eat!” These are not empty words, but rather a heartfelt and age-old prayer to end the man-made plague of hunger.

Access to affordable housing, quality health care, nutritious food and quality education is far from equal. The disparity between the privileged and the poor is growing, with opportunities for upward mobility still gravely limited. Maimonides taught, “Everyone in the house of Israel is obligated to study Torah, regardless of whether one is rich or poor, physically able or with a physical disability.” Unequal access to basic human needs, based on one’s real or perceived identity, like race, gender or disability, is a plague, antithetical to the inclusive spirit of the Jewish tradition.

In the Talmud, the sage Ben Zoma asks: “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with one’s lot.” These teachings evidence what we know in our conscience—a human propensity to desire more than we need, to want what is not ours and, at times, to allow this inclination to conquer us, leading to sin. Passover urges us against the plague of greed, toward an attitude of gratitude.

Discrimination and hatred
The Jewish people, as quintessential victims of hatred and discrimination, are especially sensitized to this plague in our own day and age. Today, half a century after the civil rights movement in the United States, we still are far from the actualization of the dream Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. articulated in Washington, D.C., a vision rooted in the message of our prophets. On Passover, we affirm our own identity as the once oppressed, and we refuse to stand idly by amid the plagues of discrimination and hatred.

Silence amid violence
Every year, 4.8 million cases of domestic violence against American women are reported. Each year, more than 108,000 Americans are shot intentionally or unintentionally in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, accidental shootings and by police intervention. One in five children has seen someone get shot. We do not adequately address violence in our society, including rape, sex trafficking, child abuse, domestic violence and elder abuse, even though it happens every day within our own communities.

Environmental destruction
Humans actively destroy the environment through various forms of pollution, wastefulness, deforestation and widespread apathy toward improving our behaviors and detrimental civic policies. Rabbi Nachman of Brezlav taught, “If you believe you can destroy, you must believe you can repair.” Our precious world is in need of repair, now more than ever.

Stigma of mental illness
One in five Americans experiences mental illness in a given year. Even more alarming, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly two-thirds of people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment, and minority communities are the least likely to search for or have access to mental health resources. Social stigma toward those with mental illness is a widespread plague. Historically, people with mental health issues have suffered from severe discrimination and brutality, yet our society is increasingly equipped with the knowledge and resources to alleviate the plague of social stigma and offer critical support.

Ignoring refugees
We are living through the worst refugee crisis since the Holocaust. On this day, we remember that “we were foreigners in the land of Egypt,” and God liberated us for a reason: to love the stranger as ourselves. With the memory of generations upon generations of our ancestors living as refugees, we commit ourselves to safely and lovingly opening our hearts and our doors to all peace-loving refugees.

When faced with these modern plagues, how often do we doubt or question our own ability to make a difference? How often do we feel paralyzed because we do not know what to do to bring about change? How often do we find ourselves powerless to transform the world as it is into the world as we know it should be, overflowing with justice and peace?

Written in collaboration with the clergy at Temple Israel of Boston

-- Cup #2 & Dayenu


Contributed by JewishBoston

The plagues and subsequent redemption are but one example of the might and protection of God. As we tell this story of triumph, we sing the words of Dayeinu (“It would have been enough”), for just a single act of love from God would have sufficed, and yet God continues to show us compassion. 

אִלּוּ הוֹצִיאָֽנוּ מִמִּצְרַֽיִם,

Ilu hotzianu mi-mitzrayim, 

If God had only taken us out of Egypt, 
that would have been enough!

אִלּוּ נָתַן לָֽנוּ אֶת־הַתּוֹרָה

Ilu natan lanu et ha-Torah, 

If God had only given us the Torah, 
that would have been enough!

Dayeinu tells the entire story of the Exodus from Egypt as a series of miracles God performed for us. It also reminds us that each of our lives is the cumulative result of many blessings, small and large.

If God had taken us out of Egypt and not judged the Egyptians— Dayeinu.
If God had judged the Egyptians, and not their idols— Dayeinu.
If God had judged their idols, and not killed their firstborns— Dayeinu.
If God had killed their firstborns, and not given us their wealth— Dayeinu.
If God had given us their wealth, and not torn the sea in two— Dayeinu.
If God had torn the sea in two, and not let us through it on dry land— Dayeinu.
If God had let us through on dry land, and not drowned our enemies— Dayeinu.
If God had drowned our enemies, and not sustained us with manna in the desert for 40 years— Dayeinu.
If God had fed us manna, and had not given us Shabbat— Dayeinu.
If God had given us Shabbat, and had not brought us to Mount Sinai— Dayeinu.
If God had brought us to Mount Sinai, and had not given us the Torah— Dayeinu.
If God had given us the Torah, and had not brought us to the land of Israel— Dayeinu.
If God had brought us to the land of Israel, and not built the Temple for us— Dayeinu.

Discussion Question

What are the blessings in your life? Go around the table and share the things you feel grateful for in your life, both small and large.

-- Cup #2 & Dayenu

The Passover Symbols

Contributed by JewishBoston

We have now told the story of Passover…but wait! We’re not quite done. There are still several symbols on our seder plate we haven’t explained. Rabban Gamaliel would say that whoever didn’t explain the shank bone, matzah and maror (bitter herbs) hasn’t done Passover justice.

The shank bone represents the “ pesach, ” the special lamb sacrifice made in the days of the Temple for the Passover holiday. During the final plague, the Israelites were instructed to smear lamb’s blood on the lintel of their homes so the angel of death would pass over their homes. The sacrifice and now the shank bone are called pesach, from the Hebrew word meaning “to pass over,” because God passed over the houses of the Israelites when inflicting plagues upon their Egyptian oppressors.

The matzah on our table reminds us that when the Israelites were finally freed from bondage, they rushed to leave Egypt before Pharaoh could change his mind. As they fled, the dough they made for bread did not have time to fully rise, so they ate flat matzah instead. During Passover, we also eat matzah and refrain from eating anything that is leavened or can rise.

The bitter herbs symbolize the bitterness of slavery, the life of hard labor the Israelites experienced.

During our Passover seder, we are reminded over and over again to tell this important story of freedom to each other and to those who will come after us. We do this to remember, to feel a connection to the story of the Israelites so we will never take our freedom for granted. Every generation is plagued with different challenges to freedom, and our story takes on new meanings throughout hundreds and hundreds of years. In the modern era, alongside the symbols of old, newer elements have been added to many seder plates to remind us of present-day struggles and triumphs.

So how was it that the orange found its place on the seder plate as a symbol of feminism, egalitarianism and those who are often marginalized?

The story has it that scholar Susannah Heschel, daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel, a preeminent modern Jewish philosopher, was inspired by the abundant new customs expressing women’s viewpoints and experiences and started placing an orange on the seder plate.

At an early point in the seder, she asked each person to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit and eat the segment in recognition of all those in our midst who feel marginalized in the Jewish community. She encouraged each guest to spit out the seeds in their orange segment to reject hatred and homophobia. The bright and vibrant orange suggests the fruitfulness for the whole community when everyone is a valued and respected member. 

-- Cup #2 & Dayenu

In Every Generation

Contributed by JewishBoston

בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת־עַצְמוֹ,
כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרָֽיִם:    

B’chol dor vador chayav adam lirot et-atzmo,
k’ilu hu yatza mimitzrayim.

In every generation, everyone is obligated to see themselves
as though they personally left Egypt.

The seder reminds us that it was not only our ancestors whom God redeemed; God redeemed us too along with them. That’s why the Torah says, “God brought us out from there in order to lead us to and give us the land promised to our ancestors.”

We praise you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, who redeemed us and our ancestors from slavery, enabling us to reach this night and eat matzah and bitter herbs. May we continue to reach future holidays in peace and happiness. 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן:     

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam,
borei p’ree hagafen.

We praise you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, 
who creates the fruit of the vine.

Drink the second glass of wine!

As we now transition from the formal telling of the Passover story to the celebratory meal, we once again wash our hands to prepare ourselves. In Judaism, a good meal together with friends and family is itself a sacred act, so we prepare for it just as we prepared for our holiday ritual, recalling the way ancient priests once prepared for service in the Temple.

Some people distinguish between washing to prepare for prayer and washing to prepare for food by changing the way they pour water on their hands. For washing before food, pour water three times on your right hand and then three times on your left hand. After you have poured the water over your hands, recite this short blessing.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו 
וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדָֽיִם:    

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam,
asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav 
v’tzivanu al n’tilat yadayim.

We praise you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, 
who made us holy through obligations, commanding us to wash our hands.

We mark the start of our meal with the Motzi blessing, perhaps familiar from Shabbat. Because we are using matzah instead of bread, we add a blessing celebrating this Passover holiday.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
הַמּוֹצִיא לֶֽחֶם מִן הָאָֽרֶץ:     

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, 
hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz.

We praise you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, 
who brings forth bread from the earth.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתַָיו
וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל אֲכִילַת מַצָּה:    

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam,
asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav 
v’tzivanu al achilat matzah.

We praise you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, 
who made us holy by commanding us to eat matzah.

Distribute the top and middle matzah for everyone to eat.

In creating a holiday about the joy of freedom, we turn the story of bitter history into a sweet celebration. We recognize this by dipping our bitter herbs into the sweet charoset. As we taste the bitterness of the herb, we are grateful for the sweetness of our delicious charoset. 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתַָיו
וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל אֲכִילַת מָרוֹר:    

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam,
asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav 
v’tzivanu al achilat maror.

We praise you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, 
who made us holy by commanding us to eat bitter herbs.

When the Temple stood in Jerusalem more than a thousand years ago, the most important sacrifice was the pesach, or lamb sacrifice. The great sage Hillel would put the lamb meat in a sandwich made of matzah, along with some of the bitter herbs. While Jews no longer make sacrifices, we honor this custom by eating a sandwich of the remaining matzah and bitter herbs. Many will also include charoset in the sandwich to remind us again of the sweetness of freedom.

Relax, eat and enjoy friends, family and guests! But remember, when we’re done eating we’ve got a little more seder to go, including the final two cups of wine.

The fun and silliness of searching for and hopefully finding the afikoman reminds us that we balance our difficult collective memories of slavery with a joyous and grateful celebration of freedom. As we eat the afikoman, our dessert and our last taste of matzah for the evening, we are grateful for these moments with our friends and family.

Refill your wine glass.

We now say the blessing after the meal, thanking God for the food we have eaten. On Passover, we continue celebrating our joy of freedom by finishing this blessing with our third glass of wine:

We praise you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, whose goodness sustains the world. You are the origin of love and compassion, the source of sustenance for all. We praise God, source of sustenance for all. 

As it says in the Torah: When you have eaten and are satisfied, give praise to your God who has given you this good earth. We praise God for the earth and for its sustenance.

Renew our spirits in our time. We praise you, God, who centers us. May the source of peace grant peace to us, to the house of Israel, and to the entire world. Amen. 


The Third Glass of Wine

Contributed by JewishBoston

The blessing over the meal is immediately followed by another blessing over the wine:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן:   

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam,
borei p’ree hagafen.

We praise you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, 
who creates the fruit of the vine.

Drink the third glass of wine!


The Cup of Elijah

Contributed by JewishBoston

We now refill our wine glasses one last time and open the front door to invite the prophet Elijah to join our seder and drink from his glass of wine with us. 

In the Bible, Elijah was a fierce defender of God to a disbelieving people. At the end of his life, rather than dying, he was brought directly up to God on a chariot. Some believe Elijah will return to herald a new era of peace, so we set a place for Elijah, hopeful that he may join us and bring peace to the whole world.

אֵלִיָּֽהוּ הַנָּבִיא, אֵלִיָּֽהוּ הַתִּשְׁבִּי,
אֵלִיָּֽהוּ, אֵלִיָּֽהוּ,אֵלִיָּֽהוּ הַגִּלְעָדִי.
בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵֽנוּ יָבוֹא אֵלֵֽינוּ
עִם מָשִֽׁיחַ בֶּן דָּוִד, 
עִם מָשִֽׁיחַ בֶּן דָּוִד.    

Eliyahu hanavi, Eliyahu hatishbi
Eliyahu, Eliyahu, Eliyahu hagiladi
Bimheirah v’yameinu, yavo eileinu
Im mashiach ben-David,
Im mashiach ben-David.

Elijah the prophet, the returning, the man of Gilad:
return to us speedily, in our days with the messiah, son of David.

This is the time set aside for singing. Some of us might sing traditional prayers from the Book of Psalms. Others take this moment for favorites like “Let My People Go” or ”Chad Gadya.” To celebrate our freedom, we might sing songs from the civil rights movement, or other songs of triumph over struggle. Or perhaps someone at the table has some parody lyrics about Passover to the tunes from a musical or a Beatles song! We’re at least three glasses of wine into the night, so just roll with it!


The Fourth Glass of Wine

Contributed by JewishBoston

As we come to the end of the seder, we drink a final glass of wine. With this last cup, we give thanks for the experience of celebrating Passover together, for the traditions that remind us to be grateful for all we have, for celebrating with friends and family and seeking to make the world a better place, where all are free. 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן:     

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam,
borei p’ree hagafen.

We praise you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, 
who creates the fruit of the vine.

Drink the fourth and final glass of wine!

We have come to the end of our seder. We hope to have the opportunity in the years to come to continue telling this story of freedom with our loved ones. We pray this coming year brings health and healing, joy and liberation, gratitude and wonder to all the people of the world.

And we say:

לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּירוּשָׁלָֽיִם:

L’shana haba-ah biy’rushalayim!


1. What do you consider your “promised land,” or heaven on earth?

2. In Hebrew, the word for Egypt is “Mitzraim,” which literally means “narrow place.” What is one way that you wish for our society to be more open?

3. Moses is considered one of the greatest leaders in our history — he is described as being smart, courageous, selfless and kind. Which of today’s leaders inspires you in a similar way?

4. Miriam was a prophetess and the sister of Moses who, after crossing the Red Sea, led the women in song and dance with tambourines. She is described as being courageous, confident, insightful and nurturing. Which musician or artist today inspires you in a similar way?

5. More recent and ongoing struggles for freedom include civil rights, GLBTQ equality, and women’s rights. Who is someone involved in this work that you admire?

6. Is there someone — or multiple people — in your family’s history who made their own journey to freedom?

7. Freedom is a central theme of Passover. When in your life have you felt most free?

8. If you could write an 11th commandment, what would it be?

9. What’s the longest journey you have ever taken?

10. How many non-food uses for matzah can you think of? Discuss!

11. Let’s say you are an Israelite packing for 40 years in the desert. What three modern items would you want to bring?

12. The Haggadah says that in every generation of Jewish history enemies have tried to eliminate us. What are the biggest threats you see to Judaism today?

13. The Passover seder format encourages us to ask as many questions as we can. What questions has Judaism encouraged you to ask?

14. Israel is central to the Passover seder. Do you think modern Israel is central to Jewish life? Why or why not?

15. The manna in the desert had a taste that matched the desire of each individual who ate it. For you, what would that taste be? Why?

16. Let’s say you had to swim across the Red Sea, and it could be made of anything except water. What would you want it to be?

17. If the prophet Elijah walked through the door and sat down at your table, what’s the first thing you would ask him?

18. Afikoman means “dessert” in Greek. If you could only eat one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?

19. What is something you wish to cleanse yourself of this year? A bad habit? An obsession or addiction?

20. The word “seder” means “order.” How do you maintain order in your life?


Download the PDF here:

A few years ago I attended a Passover seder and was struck to see, for the first time, an orange on the seder plate. Until that moment, the concept of modern-day additions to the plate were altogether foreign to me. In the course of the seder, the meaning of the orange was explained to me: Introduced by feminist and Jewish scholar Dr. Susannah Heschel, the orange represents “the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life."

Today, it is my fervent hope that the orange’s initial meaning on the seder plate has been expanded to include other identities in the LGBTQ+ community. As a queer trans man, I ache to be seen as a fruitful member of my faith community, not in spite of my gender identity or sexual orientation, but because of it. That ache for freedom and authenticity is precisely what Passover is about: the drive of all people to be free to express their faith, and their many intersecting identities.

For trans and gender creative people, finding acceptance in our faith is often fraught with questioning: Will I be accepted? Will I be pushed away from a faith or community that is important to my identity? Can I be my full authentic self before my congregation? Can I be my authentic self before God? Although rarely limited to four, these types of questions cast a shadow on the experiences of many trans people, much like the Four Questions hover over the Passover table. Unlike Passover, however, the questions trans people may ask aren’t always so clearly answered.

This year, I pose the following questions to you in the hopes that when (not if) a trans or gender creative person comes to your faith community, they find answers of hope, healing and freedom.

What does "transgender" mean? What does "non-binary" mean? And what about "gender creative"?

There are many ways to define transgender—simply because there are many ways to be transgender. To boil down the essence as concisely as possible, a transgender person is someone whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. To use myself as an example, I was assigned female at birth; however, I am not a woman—I identify as a trans man.

Some in the trans community identify on a gender binary, meaning within one of two categories: man or woman. Many know their gender identity to be outside that binary, thus are non-binary. Identities in the non-binary community include gender fluid, gender queer, agender, bi-gender and many others.

Gender creative, as well as gender expansive, are two terms often used to describe youth who are journeying to discover their identity relative to gender. For many youth, it may take time and exploration to discover who they are or want to be, and gender is no different.

Another important definition not included in the initial question is the term "cisgender." Sometimes shortened to “cis” (much in the same way that transgender is often shortened to “trans”), this term is used to describe someone who identifies with the gender associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, my spouse, Lauren, is a cisgender woman: she was assigned female at birth and identifies as a woman.

Questions for the table: What ways have we been exposed to or learned about transgender identities? And what stories, narratives or intersecting identities were missing from that exposure?

How has the transgender rights movement differed from or intersected with other LGBTQ+ rights movements, like marriage equality, military service, etc.?

The fight for transgender rights and equality is far from over; and for some states, equal rights are under attack. However, transgender people have been a part of the national push for LGBTQ+ equality since it began. Trans people—more specifically, trans women of color—were the first to rise up and push back against police at the historic Compton Cafeteria and Stonewall Riots. Trans people were critical organizers during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and '90s. Here in Boston, the first LGBTQ+ youth organization in the city was founded by the amazing Grace Sterling Stowell, a local hero and trans woman.

However, the movement for LGBTQ+ equality thus far has often centered on marriage equality for gay, lesbian and bisexual couples. Now that we’ve attained this exciting victory in the U.S., transgender rights are beginning to move to the forefront of our movement. We are pushing for nondiscrimination laws that ensure we can access hospitals, education or employment free from discrimination. We are working to educate health care and insurance providers about our unique health needs. We are creating policies to ensure trans and gender creative youth are safe in schools and at home.

Not only that, but many of us in the LGBTQ+ rights movement are also working for equality broadly—economic justice, racial justice, immigration rights, health care rights and so many others. We know that when transphobia intersects with other forms of oppression, such as racism, classism, ableism and others, our community sees even higher rates of discrimination and violence.

Questions for the table: Who is Marsha P. Johnson? Sylvia Rivera? Who are other trans icons in the movement for social justice? How can we be better about lifting up their stories?

What are ways we can incorporate transgender rights advocacy, allyship or movement building in our own lives?

In my own work and life, I often come back to the passage, "Justice, justice shall you pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20). The work for equality and justice is an essential part of my Jewish faith. So not only is it important to advocate for the rights of marginalized communities, but it is an expression of my faith to do so.

The first and most important way to be an ally in your everyday life is to seek out educational and media materials about the trans and gender creative community. More specifically, look for materials or opportunities led by trans voices. There is a wide array of media out there, but not all of it is provided in an authentic way for trans people.

Next, I would think about your own life and areas where trans voices are either absent or inaccessible. For instance, does your temple have any statement of inclusion for LGBTQ+ people? Does your place of work have a nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation or gender identity? If not, find resources to bring that might be helpful. Keshet is an LGBTQ+ Jewish organization that can help you think about ways to make a shul more inclusive. Organizations like the Mass Trans Political Coalition, GLAD and others may be able to help with policy materials as well.

Lastly, think about ways you might be able to support the trans rights movement. Volunteer opportunities are available across the Boston area, especially for the upcoming trans rights ballot initiative. There are trans-led, trans-focused organizations locally and nationally that rely on donations to keep their doors open. These are all great ways to make trans rights a part of your personal pursuit for justice and equality.

Question for the table: Make a plan together of ways we want to be involved in the transgender rights movement. Are there volunteer opportunities, events we can attend or trans-focused media (movies, theater, television) we can support?

How is gender identity or expression represented in Jewish faith, texts or history?

It’s important to remember that trans and gender creative people are not a new phenomenon or a “creation” of the millennial generation. We have been a part of human history since its beginning. Which begs the question: Are there trans or non-binary people in Jewish texts or history?

I could spend days writing about the ways in which gender shows up in the Torah and Talmud in unexpected and fluid ways. From the very beginning, God created Adam (or more specifically ha-adam), the first human: before God splits Adam to create Eve (from Adam’s side or rib, depending on your reading), this first human (ha-adam) is both man and woman, containing the elements of both. And, as we read, Adam’s initial form was created “in God’s image.” Does that mean that God is both man and woman, and thus non-binary? Adam, and therefore God, do not fit into one gender alone, but all genders, all expressions, including trans identities. Our tradition certainly recognizes and celebrates that multi-gendered deity-names for the almighty are both masculine and feminine. I know many congregations that have moved to using gender-neutral pronouns (“They/Them/Theirs” or “Ze/Hir/Hirs” for God, rather than the patriarchal and limiting “He”) to reflect this reading.

Granted, this is my interpretation (though one I’ve studied in text and with several rabbis over the years), but suffice it to say, the representation of trans identities is scattered throughout Jewish texts. The Talmud references not just two genders (man and woman), but six genders throughout.

My point is, trans and gender creative people are part of Jewish history and text, if you take the time to look. And, more important, trans and gender creative Jews are part of our Jewish community today and will be forevermore. It behooves us to make space for trans members of our faith. This year, make the orange a part of your seder plate, make LGBTQ+ rights and history a part of the conversation, and make space at your table for trans and gender creative people this year and all years to come.

Questions for the table: At first impression, how do you think the Torah and Talmud might address binary or non-binary trans identities? After learning more, are you surprised? How has your congregation or Torah study addressed gender?

Written by Mason Dunn for JewishBoston, March 2018.

At the beginning of the book of Exodus, a new Pharaoh reigns over Egypt who, the text tells us, “did not know Joseph.” This does not mean that he did not know Joseph personally, but rather that he neither knew how Joseph had served Egypt nor did he know Joseph’s people, the Israelites. He expressed what may be the earliest record of an anti-Semitic statement:

“And he said to his people, 'Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.’”

The Haggadah recognized that Pharaoh’s hatred of the Israelites was not unique. It tells us: “And not just one enemy has risen up against us to destroy us, to the contrary: in every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us.” Jewish history is much more than a saga of oppression, persecution and genocide, but anti-Semitism persists and it is therefore essential that we know what it is and what we can do to fight it.

What is anti-Semitism?

Anti-Semitism refers to beliefs or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. It may take the form of religious teachings or racial ideologies that proclaim the inferiority of Jews and view them as a danger to society. It can be expressed by efforts to isolate, oppress or otherwise injure them, as well as hate speech, violence and acts of intimidation. It may also include prejudiced or stereotyped views about Jews.

Anti-Semitism is found all over the world, though the amount varies greatly from place to place. According to polling data, in the United States the number of those who hold anti-Semitic views has held steady at about 13 percent. In the last two years, however, there has been a significant rise in reports of anti-Semitic incidents, along with a rise in hate incidents against Muslims, LGBTQ people and others. In 2017 alone, ADL recorded 1,986 incidents of anti-Semitism, the largest single-year increase on record.

Is there a difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?

Criticism of the policies of the government of Israel, like that of any other country, is a legitimate part of public discourse. Criticism of Israel ceases to be legitimate, however, when it makes use of anti-Semitic stereotypes and images. Anti-Zionism, defined as prejudice against the Jewish movement for self-determination and the right to a homeland in the State of Israel, crosses the line to anti-Semitism when it uses traditional anti-Semitic imagery or stereotypes, blames all Jews for the actions of Israel or denies or questions Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and equal member of the global community.

Why should we worry about anti-Semitism when there is so much racism, misogyny, homophobia, anti-immigrant bigotry, etc.?

No hatred should be tolerated and no one should suffer because of who they are. As long as Jews are targeted for terrorism, violence and hatred, all those who care about human rights and human dignity must fight anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism, however, does not exist in a vacuum. Those who hate Jews usually hate others as well. Therefore, the fight is not only against anti-Semitism, but also about all forms of prejudice and hatred.

What can I do about anti-Semitism?

First, when you see it, name it and call it out. As has been pointed out often, the only thing necessary for evil to persist is for good people to say nothing. Second, if you or someone you know is the target of a hate incident or a hate crime, report it to your local police department, attorney general or ADL. Finally, support organizations that are working to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry.

Written by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) New England for JewishBoston, March 2018.

These “Four Questions of Mental Health” are from JF&CS Chaverim Shel Shalom Haggadah. Chaverim Shel Shalom is a social group for Jewish adults living with psychiatric conditions.

What is oppressing us? Is it self-imposed, such as a lack of achievement, or externally imposed, such as parents or political current events that are out of our control, or both of these things together?

How can this seder help us and heal us?

How can we take care of ourselves and maintain a positive cycle?

If we were really serious about our healing, why don’t we tell the story of our deliverance every night, not just on Passover?

On this seder night, we recognize that, as Jews with psychiatric conditions, we have a great deal to teach our community. Because we know about the unpredictability and pain of having a chronic illness, we are compassionate toward others. Because we know what it is to be labeled as “different” and “defective” by those who don’t even know us as human beings, we are the contemporary embodiment of all Jewish history. Because we have experienced oppression and persecution firsthand, we each feel that we, personally, are struggling to leave Egypt behind us every day. In this way, we are mindful of that way we pray each morning, “Moses said to the people: remember this day, in which you came out of Egypt, out of a house of slavery; for by a strong hand Adonai brought you out of this place; no leavened bread shall be eaten.”

Because we have learned from each other and from sensitive caregivers about how to care for ourselves, we respond to the needs of others who are less fortunate than we are who don’t know how to articulate their suffering.

Thousands of years ago, our ancestors were enslaved by the Egyptians. Today some of us find ourselves enslaved by the chains that bind our minds and our emotions. As we sit around the seder table with family and friends, sharing the story of our ancestors, we can be healed to some extent through our communal spirituality.

Written by Jewish Family & Children’s Service for JewishBoston, March 2018.

Passover is a holiday that asks us to pause our usual routines and be mindful of our surroundings. Even before the holiday begins, we are instructed to clean our houses of any hametz—leavened food—that might be lurking in corners and under cupboards. Instead of rushing through our lives and our living spaces, we go through them slowly and carefully.

At our Passover seders, we spend hours telling the story of when we were slaves in Egypt and how we came to be free. Instead of going through our days thinking about our next task, meeting or errand, Passover is a time when we dig deep into the past and focus on the plight of our ancestors. And then finally for eight days, we alter our usual meals and eating routines and take notice of what we put into our bodies. We pay attention to what we cook, where we eat and the food we share with others.

In this holiday of reflecting and noticing, we also find ourselves asking questions. The four traditional questions asked during the seder offer a launch pad for us to stop and consider questions we do not often allow ourselves the time to contemplate. This Passover, we encourage you to think about four more questions that reflect the issues we are grappling with today.

Gun violence

When we are about to ask the Four Questions, we usually turn to the youngest at our table. As a country, we are turning now to our youth, who are leading the call for gun law reform and holding our elected officials accountable.

How can we, as individuals and as communities, support the leadership of our young adults who are calling for changes to our state and federal gun laws? How can we offer them the wisdom of our years while still allowing the space for their own creativity and ingenuity?


In the Passover story, the Hebrews are not originally from Egypt, but over many generations have built their lives there and put down roots. We see Pharaoh become threatened by their numbers, and in response to his fear he issues a decree for all first-born male babies to be drowned in the Nile.

Today, immigrant communities who have been in the United States for generations and have contributed greatly to our country are facing threats of deportation, violence and persecution. This fear of the “other,” both in Pharaoh’s time and in ours, is turned into laws and systems that work to keep people out or remove them from their homes and families.

Where have you encountered laws or systems that are designed to keep out immigrant communities, either today or in your family’s history? How can we help people overcome their fears of the “other” today?

Economic justice

When Moses first comes to the Hebrews after meeting God in the burning bush, the Hebrews do not believe he has come to bring their liberation. They feel forgotten by God because they have been sending up their cries and prayers for years while enduring the backbreaking labor and unbearable conditions under Pharaoh.

For years, workers and their allies have had to fight for a livable wage and the right to form unions, as well as equal pay and rights on the job. Low-wage workers have been left without enough income for food, rent and basic needs, while increasing amounts of wealth have flowed to those in higher income brackets.

Who has been forgotten by our economic system? How can we amplify workers’ calls for higher wages and economic justice so that our collective cries cannot be ignored?

Criminal justice

Right before Moses flees Egypt into the desert, he kills one of the Egyptian guards and stands horrified at his actions. In an attempt to stop him from leaving, he is reassured that as the son of Pharaoh, he will not receive any punishment or consequences for his actions. The laws of the time were such that he would not be seen as a criminal because of his identity.

Today, we know that to be born a person of color, poor, transgender or many other marginalized identities means that you encounter a higher likelihood of being suspected of committing a crime. We also know that people of color are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.

How does our current legal system decide who should be judged as a criminal? Who benefits from such a system?

Written by Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action for JewishBoston, March 2018.

Over the years, the Passover story has evolved from a story just about Moses and Aaron to include their female counterparts. We set aside a cup of water for Miriam, celebrate Shifrah and Puah for their act of bravery and comment on Pharaoh’s daughter’s defiant move. As we commemorate the leadership of matriarchs in the Exodus story, the questions about our contemporary relationship to women’s rights and liberation come to the fore. These questions contemplate how our future can be more equitable and just for all women. 

What is a feminist?

We’ve heard the word before. Feminist. But the meaning of the word seems…controversial. Is a feminist someone who hates men? To be a feminist, do you have to burn your bra and not shave your armpits? Is Lena Dunham really a feminist?

Simply put, being a feminist means you believe in the social, political and economic equality of women. So why is it such a dirty word? What makes this such a “hot topic”?

Ask around the table: What does it mean to you to be a feminist? Do you identify as a feminist? Why or why not?

Why is it essential that feminism be intersectional?

The term “intersectional,” coined by scholar and activist Kimberlé Crenshaw, is the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole; in order to fully understand someone’s identity, we must think of each separate identity as linked to all the others. As an example, a white Jewish woman is all three parts of her identity; she cannot simply separate her race, religion and gender when these identities intersect and interplay with one another constantly.

So why is this important in relation to feminism? Because if our concept of equality doesn’t include the liberation of women of color, queer women, disabled women, then what are we fighting for? If we don’t name these identities explicitly in our struggle, we leave out the essential experience and strength they bring.

Do you think your feminism is intersectional? Do you think it’s important that feminism be intersectional? Have you thought about intersectional feminism before?

How can we better include trans women in our fight for gender equality?

Speaking of intersectionality, as trans issues have come into the media spotlight over the past few years, it’s essential we think about how we can improve our inclusion of trans women in feminism. When we consider the wage gap, are we talking about anyone besides white cisgender (i.e. non-transgender) women? When we fight for health care, are we accounting for the needs of trans women within that system? When we talk about reproductive justice, do we conflate being a woman with having a uterus? Do our women’s events have space for trans women to feel comfortable using the restroom? Jewish women’s spaces often center on bat mitzvah or Rosh Chodesh; can we expand these rituals and events to meaningfully include trans women?

How do you think we can better include trans women in our fight for gender justice? And beyond the fight for women’s rights, how is your Jewish community inclusive of the trans community?

What are some concrete ways we can fight for gender equality?

It’s easy to be theoretical when we talk about the struggle for justice. While it’s great to use our brains and hearts sometimes, we must use our hands as well. Not every act of rebellion needs to be a huge march or protest. Not everyone can call or march, not everyone can strike or boycott, not everyone is safe enough to speak up; however, everyone can take some action.

Go around the table and share one way you will fight against the patriarchy this year. Make a public commitment to those at your seder table and tell everyone about how you can make a difference.

With gratitude and love to Gracie Bulleit, Annie Kee, Andrea Krakovsky, Jordyn Rozensky and Joanna Ware for their input and help.

Written by Emilia Diamant for JewishBoston, March 2017.

When we think of the Exodus, we recall that our ancestors were slaves in Egypt. While we often believe that slavery has been eradicated in our day, many of the same oppressive conditions under which the Israelites lived in Egypt can be found in our own country today. Workers often live perilous lives in unsafe working conditions. Housekeepers and janitors handle toxic chemicals without any protections or training. Day laborers may have their wages withheld without explanation. Hourly workers may never see overtime pay, or are forced to work “off the clock.” Without a living wage, and without basic benefits like paid leave and health care coverage, many workers today must work multiple jobs, giving up valuable time with their families.

Like slaves, many workers have no say in their working conditions. Like slaves, workers give up their dignity to serve the bottom line.

Passover is an ideal time to engage in the struggle for workers’ rights and economic justice. We can look at what is going on with people who work in all kinds of jobs, including our own. This holiday calls us to become involved in advancing the dignity of workers.

Judaism values work and workers. Go around the table: What kind of work do you do, and do you feel respected at work?

We spend much of our lives working, so it’s important that people are respected for their work, no matter their position. Respect for one’s work is demonstrated in many ways, such as paying workers decent wages, listening to how they think the work could best be done and allowing time and flexibility for people to pay attention to their families and their own health. At the Jewish Labor Committee, we understand that low-wage workers and middle-class workers are often taken advantage of, and that it’s important to stand up for all workers. We work in the Jewish community to gather support for workers.

Many people who have jobs don’t get paid enough to pay for basic needs or work in unsafe conditions. What are the ways that unions, government policy and consumer demand can help change workers’ conditions?

For the better part of a century, the Jewish Labor Committee has worked to engage the Jewish community in supporting union campaigns, legislation and consumer boycotts that have improved the lives of thousands of people. When businesses and legislators see that the Jewish community takes a stand on worker issues, it makes a significant difference. In the past year, the New England Jewish Labor Committee supported Verizon workers, janitors and Harvard University dining-hall workers to win union contracts that improved their wages, provided job security and improved or continued their health-care benefits. Currently, in the Massachusetts Legislature, we are working to pass an increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour, as well as pass the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act to help employees when they or their family members are ill, or when a new child comes into the family.

The story of Passover teaches us that slavery is wrong. Where does slavery currently exist in the U.S. and in the world, and what’s being done to stop it?

It’s hard to imagine that slavery exists today, but it does, even in the United States—on farms, in prisons and in homes. In recent years, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, whose work the Jewish Labor Committee has been involved with for the past five years, exposed and halted slavery on farms in Florida. There are also domestic workers across the U.S. and in Massachusetts who are not allowed to leave the households where they work because their employers have taken their passports and cell phones to prevent them from leaving. The Massachusetts Coalition of Domestic Workers, along with the New England Jewish Labor Committee, is one of the groups fighting against this.

Our criminal-justice system does not protect prisoners from working for nothing or almost nothing, producing large profits for corporations in much the same way African-American slaves worked as slaves in the U.S. before the Civil War. We have many social-action groups in Massachusetts synagogues that are working for criminal-justice reform. There are also organizations, such as the National Council of Jewish Women, who are working to stop the practice of girls and young women being taken into the sex industry against their will.

In our society, people who have different work lives than we do may be invisible to us. What might we gain, as individuals and as a society, by getting to know people who earn their living in different ways than we do?

Part of the reason our country is experiencing such a big political divide is that we don’t have much real contact with people of different socio-economic classes than our own. As economic inequality has grown, we have less easy opportunities to build relationships with people who have different kinds of jobs. Reaching out to people and hearing each other’s stories will help bridge that divide. This helps everyone feel more connected, hopeful and less alone.

Written by New England Jewish Labor Committee for JewishBoston, March 2017.

The world faces many challenges, and for one of them—climate change—the time available to reverse the current trend is limited. In the midrash, God tells us: “See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.” The reality is that we are spoiling and destroying the world, but if we act now, with passion and a sense of purpose, we can still make a difference in the future of the planet. On Passover, we are each to consider that we ourselves are coming out of bondage and into freedom, and freedom brings responsibility. Quite appropriately, in the words of the sage Hillel, “If not now, when?” 

Why is this night different from all other nights?

Until this night, we paid little heed to the effect of fossil fuel consumption on the planet.

We’ve only been able to accurately measure the level of carbon in the atmosphere since the 1960s, when it was found to be 315 ppm; 350 ppm is considered safe for the future of the planet, but currently carbon levels exceed 400 ppm. Ninety-seven percent of all climate scientists understand that consuming fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, along with other human actions, will continue to change the world into a less and less hospitable home for our children and grandchildren.

Until this night, we ignored the impact of our actions on the health of the planet and the viability of all species.

All our choices—from the goods and materials we buy, use and throw away to the choices about what food we eat, what type of transportation we use and how we invest our money—impact the environment in terms of water, land, air pollution and greenhouse gases. More sustainable personal and communal choices can lessen this impact. When we understand that we and all other living and nonliving things are part of God’s sacred creation, it’s easier for us to treat it with love and respect.

Until this night, we disregarded the consequences of our food choices on our carbon footprint.

The entire global food system, from manufacturing fertilizer to growing, harvesting, storing, packaging and transporting food, is responsible for up to 30% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Switching from meat-rich meals to vegetarian ones significantly reduces an average person’s carbon footprint.

Until this night, we left others in charge of caring for the planet while we sat by, dazzled by the conveniences of our modern economy.

The majority of people in the world believe climate change is a serious or very serious problem. The intensity of concern varies across the world, and Latin Americans and sub-Saharan Africans are more worried than Americans and Chinese, whose countries have the highest overall carbon dioxide emissions. In the United States, although most people believe climate change is a serious issue, few give high priority to combating it. In the meantime, parts of Pacific Island nations are disappearing under rising sea levels.

As you travel to freedom this Passover, what new responsibility toward protecting creation and future generations are you willing to take on as an expression of your newfound personal freedom? Areas of your life to consider are food, transportation, plastics and other goods and materials, renewable energy, advocacy, self and community education, and personal finances. What can you do in your own life to live more sustainably? Who else can you help to change—your work, house of worship, extended family, elected officials?

Aldo Leopold said: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” What do you see in your actions that are right and wrong by this standard?

Birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish are dying 72 times faster than normal. Eliminating biodiversity threatens to disrupt the pollination of flowers, water purification and the food chain. How does this affect you and your community? How close do you live to the ocean? Have you thought about how the increasing sea rate rise will affect you, your children and your grandchildren?

The Amazon rainforest is called the “lungs of the world” because more than 20 percent of the world oxygen is produced there. Yet 150 acres are cut down each day, vanishing at 20,000 square miles a year. As this trend continues, how do you think it will affect you?

A relationship to land that is strictly economic is based on privileges and not obligation. And yet the midrash said, “See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world.” What other ways can we have a relationship to land that is more ethical?

Every year, 180 million tons of toxic waste is dumped into rivers, lakes, streams and oceans by mining companies. This waste can contain arsenic, lead, mercury, cyanide and over 30 other dangerous chemicals. This environmental damage affects us all. How do you think you are affected?

Air transportation is responsible for 3 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions of the United States. Aircraft also contribute to ozone and water vapor, both harmful to the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency has acknowledged that airplane pollution disrupts the climate and endangers human welfare. Can you think of ways to reduce your air travel in the future?

Written by Jewish Climate Action Network for JewishBoston, March 2017.

Why is LGBTQ liberation a part of our Passover story, tonight?

Every year on Passover, we explore the meaning of mitzrayim, meaning “narrow place,” and are asked to consider in what ways we may find ourselves in mitzrayim in our own lives, and in the world today. Though LGBTQ rights have made significant progress in the U.S. and around the world in the last decade, LGBTQ people still experience oppression and marginalization, homophobia and transphobia still plague our world, and LGBTQ people are in many ways still living in mitzrayim. So tonight, as we consider how our liberation story is tied to ongoing struggles for justice and freedom, we ask four questions about LGBTQ liberation.

What does LGBTQ mean, and why do the letters seem to keep changing?

LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer or Questioning, and the acronym is often used as a shorthand to describe diverse people who fall under an umbrella of marginalized sexualities and gender identities. Language in the LGBTQ community is dynamic and evolving. As people whose lives have, for centuries, been left out of the narratives of history and defined in other people’s terms, LGBTQ people know that words have power. LGBTQ communities developed coded language to find one another, and now have both the challenge and opportunity of describing ourselves and our lives in our own words. The terms—and the abbreviation—change as the community collectively strives to better describe all within it, in all their vibrant diversity, and as those who have gone unacknowledged demand a name come into being.

Question for the table: What words do you use to describe yourself? How have these words shaped your sense of self and your ability to be recognized for who you truly are?

Why is LGBTQ justice and liberation a Jewish issue?

Judaism teaches us that all people are imbued with holiness, created b’tzelem Elohim—in the image of God—and that we have an obligation, as Jews, to uphold human dignity (kavod habriyot). We are taught in the Babylonian Talmud: “So great is human dignity that it supersedes a negative commandment in the Torah” (Brakhot 19b). In the world today, LGBTQ people face barriers and attacks on their lives, safety and dignity. When 90 percent of LGBTQ children report bullying and harassment in their schools, when LGBTQ people can be fired from their jobs for being who they are, when transgender people are four times more likely to live in extreme poverty, and when over 40 percent of transgender people attempt suicide, we have an obligation to act to ensure the safety and dignity of LGBTQ people. This oppression facing LGBTQ people is one version of a contemporary mitzrayim—narrow place—from which we seek to emerge into liberation during Passover.

Question for the table: How do your Jewish values compel you to take action for LGBTQ liberation?

What does it mean to be an ally?

Being an ally means taking action, in words and deeds, on behalf of another group of people who are facing oppression. According to one midrash (ancient Torah commentary), the midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh’s orders to kill the Israelite babies, Shifra and Puah, were actually Egyptian, and were acting as allies. They took a risk and put themselves on the line to help protect the Israelites, who were being oppressed by Pharaoh. Eventually Shifra and Puah, according to this midrash, converted and joined the Israelites. Being an ally to LGBTQ people means speaking out and standing up in support of the rights, dignity, safety and well-being of LGBTQ people, even if those issues don’t impact you directly.

Question for the table: Do you have examples from your own life of a time you have stood up for someone else as an ally, or when someone else has stood up for you? How have these shaped your thinking about being an ally to others?

How can we support LGBTQ people in our Jewish community?

There are so many places to start! Here are just a few ideas:

Encourage your community to recognize and observe LGBTQ holidays as part of the Jewish year. Plan a Pride Shabbat, say a blessing for coming out on National Coming Out Day, and mark Transgender Day of Remembrance by reading the names of transgender people lost to transphobic violence and saying the Mourner’s Kaddish (the prayer traditionally recited in memory of the dead).

Designate all-gender bathrooms in your community, and ensure that gendered bathrooms are accessible to people who identify with the designated gender. Bathroom access is a critical issue for transgender people, who face harassment, violence and gender policing in public bathrooms. Making sure that everyone in your community can use the restroom in comfort is an important baseline for creating a trans-inclusive community.

Explore and create Jewish ritual to mark LGBTQ lifecycle events. Beautiful rituals have been created to commemorate coming out, gender transition, name changes, gender neutral coming-of age (simchat mitzvah), and other lifecycle moments. Encourage your clergy to familiarize themselves with these rituals, and make sure they make it publicly known that these rituals are available.

Say it out loud! LGBTQ people cannot assume that Jewish spaces will be welcoming to them, so many people look for subtle markers of inclusivity. An explicit statement of inclusion on your website, an LGBTQ Safe Zone sticker (available for purchase and download from Keshet), and images of LGBTQ people and families on your brochures and websites can help communicate that LGBTQ people belong.

Question for the table: How else can you support LGBTQ people in your communities and around the world?

Written by Joanna Ware for JewishBoston, March 2017.

We are taught to tell the story of Passover as if each of us individually were enslaved in Egypt, and each of us individually were liberated. In that way, the work of dismantling white supremacy calls on each of us to realize we are personally implicated. It is not enough to agree with the idea of equality. Judaism consistently asks us to go beyond beliefs into action. Tonight, we ask ourselves about our own actions—and we also ask the friends, family and community gathered together at the seder about our collective actions. Situated within the racial history and racial hierarchy of the U.S., we start with questions about anti-black racism. 

What are we doing to pursue the Movement for Black Lives platform?

The good news about doing anti-racist actions in the U.S. is that we don’t have to guess about what needs to be done. The Movement for Black Lives is a coalition of more than 50 organizations fighting for black liberation and for the end of state-sanctioned violence against black people and communities. The platform is divided into six sets of demands: end the war on black people; reparations; invest-divest; economic justice; community control; and political power. Each specific demand includes local, state and federal policy recommendations. Where do you have influence? What can you do to ensure that we, collectively, meet these demands?

What are we doing to support black trans women?

Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Jojo Striker, Jaquarrius Holland, Tiara Lashaytheboss Richmond, Chyna Doll Dupree and Ciara McElveen are seven transgender women of color known to have been murdered this year alone (by the time we are writing this in March 2017). Five of them were black. And there are countless more black trans women who are still alive. What are you doing to support them? They are creating beautiful art and running amazing advocacy organizations and building fiercely loving relationships and need money and jobs and housing and health care and need to not be killed by acts of racist-transmisogynist violence. They need to not be dehumanized. Trans women are women and black trans lives matter.

What are we doing to follow the leadership of black women and femmes?

Trust black women. This includes black trans women. This includes black femmes, as in people who embody femininity, feminine expression and/or femme identity. Black Lives Matter was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi—three black women. Tamika Mallory is a national organizer of the Women’s March on Washington. Ayanna Pressley has served on the Boston City Council since 2009. Janet Mock. Laverne Cox. Angela Davis. So many more. Listen when they speak, take in their words and push yourself to do what they are asking of you. When was the last time you did something that black women asked you to do? What are the black women in your community asking you to do? What are Jewish black women asking you to do?

Good news again—there is still plenty of guidance out there, in this case particularly for white folks trying to answer the above questions. Check this out, by Leslie Mac and Marissa Jenae Johnson, two black women activists: “Safety Pin Box is a monthly subscription box for white people striving to be allies in the fight for black liberation. Box memberships are a way to not only financially support black femme freedom fighters, but also complete measurable tasks in the fight against white supremacy.” Money raised from monthly subscriptions goes to individual black women and femmes working for black liberation. How can white people step into the roles black people are asking us to fill? What would it take for you to sign up for Safety Pin Box?

What are we ready to risk?

Ava DuVernay (another brilliant black woman) in her documentary “13th” highlights that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed slavery, “except as punishment for a crime.” As we tell the story of our own liberation from slavery, we see too that mass incarceration is slavery, and it is racial violence. Police brutality, vigilante murders and the criminalization of protests, immigration and addiction are all part of this system of abuse and control. When we say “Never again,” how can we mean it if it’s happening right now? Race-based violence is so deeply woven into our social structures that we need to deeply change our social structures in order to end race-based violence. That means now. That means urgently.

What will you put on the line to demand these changes? How much time, energy and money will you contribute? Are you willing to risk relationships to call people out on racism? Are you willing to risk your reputation within your field or workplace? For white folks, are you willing to risk the layers of safety that come with whiteness? Supporting black people means risking all that comes with the whiteness status that Ashkenazi Jews have gained. It means using power and privilege to advance goals perhaps alien to your own. What does whiteness mean to you, how does it shape your life and what will it take to leverage its power? Are you willing to risk your body by showing up to a Black Lives Matter protest? Are you willing to risk your own individual life goals? What will it look like for you to make racial justice a priority?

Written by Mimi Arbeit and Marc Dones for JewishBoston, March 2017.

Passover night, the birthday of our people, is a special time for each of us to celebrate our own personal birth into freedom, and imagine ways to make our people more whole. We open the seder with, “Let all who need come and celebrate Passover,” and then engage the four children, each so differently gifted, all of whom must find his or her place at the table. And even more: We must seek and make welcome those who have not yet come to the table, to be attentive to what they need so that they feel comfortable and will want to be there, celebrating joyfully. Only then will we know that we are truly free. 

How can the stories we tell be inclusive of those with disabilities?

What makes you feel valued?

What does full inclusion look like at the seder table?

How can disability inclusion benefit your various communities, like schools, workplaces and synagogues?

Adapted from “A 21st Century Exodus: What Passover Can Tell Us About Inclusion,” produced as part of the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative.

Written by Ruderman Family Foundation for JewishBoston, March 2017.

The centrality of Israel to the Jewish faith and experience is central to the holiday of Passover. The Passover story is one of wandering and redemption. It is the story of a people yearning for a homeland. In fact, each Passover seder concludes with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

This year, 2017, is a year of great significance in Israel’s modern history. These four questions look at the significant anniversaries in the history of modern Israel in an attempt to answer, “Why is 2017 different from all other years?”

What is the significance of the First Zionist Congress?

One-hundred-twenty years ago (August 1897), the First Zionist Congress convened in Switzerland. Led by Theodor Herzl, the three-day meeting included an estimated 200 participants representing 17 countries. Herzl was elected president of the Zionist Organization at the meeting, during which the congress established means to obtain the creation of a Jewish homeland in Israel. It took 51 years for that dream to become a reality.

What does the existence of a Jewish state mean to you?

What is the significance of the Balfour Declaration?

One hundred years ago (November 1917), British Foreign Secretary James Balfour sent a letter to Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, Britain’s most famed Jewish citizen. The letter, which came to be known as the Balfour Declaration, declared for the first time the British government’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” The Balfour Declaration paved the way for the U.N. Partition Plan, which led to the establishment of the Jewish state.

How do you think the Balfour Declaration shaped modern Jewish history?

What is the significance of the U.N. Partition Plan?

Seventy years ago (November 1947), the United Nations voted to create two states—one Jewish, one Arab—in the British Palestine Mandate. Resolution 181, as it was called, required Britain to withdraw from the territory and draw boundaries for the two states. Jews in Palestine accepted the plan; the Arabs, backed by regional Arab states, rejected it. While it predated the birth of modern Israel by one year, the 1947 U.N. partition marked the beginning of an era of animosity between Israel and surrounding Arab states.

The U.N. Partition Plan created a divided land. What is the significance of a divided state? The Arab rejection of an Israeli state in the Middle East has led to wars, boycotts, animosity and terrorism against Jews in Israel and around the world. How do you think the conflict can be resolved? Can it ever be resolved?

What was the significance of the Six-Day War?

Fifty years ago (June 1967), there was a short but monumental conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The Six-Day War saw a stunning military victory for the only 19-year-old modern Jewish state, one which altered the course of its history. In addition to liberating Jerusalem—and allowing Jews to access the Western Wall for the first time since the establishment of the modern state—Israel pushed Jordanian troops completely out of the West Bank and ousted Egypt from the Sinai Peninsula. Israel’s land area more than tripled, and Israel was established as the most powerful military force in the region. At the same time, Israel became an occupying force in the West Bank, populated at the time by nearly 600,000 Palestinians. It also marked the beginning of the official policy of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, though the area has a long Jewish history dating back to biblical times. Today, more than 400,000 Israelis reside in the West Bank.

Does Israel have an obligation to either maintain territories in the West Bank that have religious/historical significance to the Jewish faith? Or does Israel have an obligation to trade land for peace to the Palestinians? Are there times when you feel conflicted discussing Israel, settlements or peace with friends or family? What do you think the significance of a unified Jerusalem is to the Jewish people and Jewish faith?

Written by Dan Seligson for Israel and Global Jewish Citizenship at Combined Jewish Philanthropies for JewishBoston, March 2017.

Parenting Through a Jewish Lens (PTJL) believes in meeting parents “where they're at,” creating supportive, non-judgmental experiences that help families—both children and adults—make choices informed by Jewish teachings and traditions that feel authentic and meaningful to them. Here are four questions to help every parent on their journey. 

Why does parenting today seem harder than in the past?

In the era of 24/7 social media, parents often feel confused and pressured by the deluge of parenting opinions and advice. How do I prevent and handle temper tantrums? What about sibling fights? How do I parent in the age of social media? How can I fortify my child to bounce back from pitfalls and setbacks? How do I raise my child to be a mensch?

Discipline may also confound parents; with yelling described as the new spanking, parents can feel confused and guilty. Talking about challenges with a friend or a group of supportive parents can help us realize that we are not alone in feeling unsure about our parenting decisions. Many of us find comfort in accepting that we don’t need to—and indeed cannot be—perfect, and aim instead for being “good enough” parents.

Why do kids ask such hard questions?

Young children challenge us with their amazing questions: Where is God? What happens when people die? Why do I have to die? Why don’t we celebrate the same way that my friends and cousins do? Or they may just keep asking, “Why?” Parents want advice on what to say, especially if they don’t consider themselves spiritual or religious. And in interfaith families, questions about practices and beliefs may feel particularly loaded. Honest conversations between parents about these tough queries can be hard to come by, even for parents who are affiliated with a congregation or a Jewish day school. Parents can benefit from processing their own concerns with other thoughtful adults. Having a chance to figure out their views and discern their values before the hard questions come up can be extremely valuable.

Does parenting get easier as your children get older?

It gets…different. Parents of tweens and teens need support too, just in a different way. According to a recent study, mothers of middle school-age students suffer from depression more than mothers of children of any other ages—even more than parents of newborns. With tweens and teens beginning the process of separation, parents struggle with how to respond; like their children, parents undergo their own identity shifts. In Parenting Your Tween Through a Jewish Lens we introduce the concept of tzimtzum, which literally means “contraction.” According to tradition, God contracted to make space for creation. We encourage parents to consider how to consciously “contract” in a way that works for them, and at the same time honors their tweens’ and teens’ growing independence.

How can Jewish tradition inform our parenting today?

The idea that Jewish tradition offers thousands of years of wisdom can comfort today’s parents, who are relieved to be reminded that parenting challenges date back millennia. After all, Adam and Eve didn’t have the easiest job with their kids.

In the first session of PTJL, we explore the “joys and oys” of parenthood—allowing parents to acknowledge their challenges while also exploring traditional Jewish teachings to bring joy into our parenting lives. For one father, the chaos of getting small children fed and out the door in the morning became the unlikely chance to pause and reflect on gratitude. One mother shared that participating in PTJL was like "hitting reset" on her day-to-day life; she created a “Blessing for the Home” that reflected her family’s unique needs and ideals, and helped them keep their core values more present in their home. For other parents, hearing how different families observed Jewish practices helped them be more confident in what they did—or didn’t do—for Shabbat.

Written by Erica Streit-Kaplan of Parenting Through a Jewish Lens at Hebrew College for JewishBoston, March 2019.

At Passover every year, we read the story of our ancestors’ pursuit of liberation from oppression. It’s difficult to tell that story and not feel compelled to help others who are being oppressed. There are numerous social-justice themes in the Exodus story, including hunger, homelessness, oppression and redemption. Oppression still exists in society today, and it’s important as Jews to focus on how to help others and take an active role in our community, country and world.

In what ways are people in our society discriminated against or treated unequally?

What are examples of recent discrimination? What groups are targeted? How can we advocate for more equal treatment? How can we prevent future generations from being victims of discrimination?

Is it our responsibility to support displaced people who have been forced to flee their homes because of violence or persecution?

Deuteronomy says, “You must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” What does this mean to you when you think about refugees and immigrants today? What could you do to help? Have you spoken to your elected officials about your thoughts on refugees and immigrants?

Why on this night do we invite the hungry and vulnerable to share our meal?

Is this an important part of Passover to you? Psalms 145:16 says, “You give [food] open-handedly, feeding every creature to its heart’s content.” What does this mean in your life? Have you invited or been invited to share a meal with others you don’t know well in the past? If so, how did it feel?

How can we address hunger and homelessness in our community this year?

Is there something you could do in your community to help those who are hungry and homeless? Proverbs teaches: “Speak up for the mute, for the rights of the unfortunate. Speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy.” What does this mean for you?

Here’s a fifth question, courtesy of American Jewish World Service:

How can we make this year different from all other years?

This year, this Passover, let us recommit to that sacred responsibility to protect the stranger, particularly those vulnerable strangers in faraway places whose suffering is so often ignored. Let us infuse the rituals of the seder with action: When tasting the matzah, the bread of poverty, let us find ways to help the poor and the hungry. When eating the maror, let us commit to help those whose lives are embittered by disease. When dipping to commemorate the blood that protected our ancestors against the angel of death, let us pursue protection for those whose lives are threatened by violence and conflict. When reclining in celebration of our freedom, let us seek opportunities to help those who are oppressed.

With excerpts from American Jewish World Service, Repair the World, Union for Reform Judaism and Religious Action Center.

Written by JCRC’s ReachOut! for JewishBoston JewishBoston, March 2017.


Let My People Go

Contributed by JewishBoston

“When Israel was in Egypt land, let my people go”
“Oppressed so hard they could not stand, let my people go”
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land
Tell old Pharaoh, let my people go

“Thus saith the Lord,” bold Moses said, “Let my people go”
“If not I’ll smite your firstborn dead, let my people go”
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land
Tell old Pharaoh, let my people go

“No more shall they in bondage toil, let my people go”
“Let them come out with Egypt’s spoils, let my people go”
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land
Tell old Pharaoh, let my people go

“When people stop this slavery, let my people go”
“Soon may all the earth be free, let my people go”
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land
Tell old Pharaoh, let my people go


Chad Gadya

Contributed by JewishBoston

חַד גַּדְיָא, חַד גַּדְיָא
דְזַבִּין אַבָּא בִּתְרֵי זוּזֵי, 
חַד גַּדְיָא, חַד גַּדְיָא.
Chad gadya, chad gadya
My father bought for two  zuzim
Chad gadya, chad gadya

Then came the cat that ate the kid
My father bought for two  zuzim
Chad gadya, chad gadya

Then came the dog that bit the cat
That ate the kid
My father bought for two  zuzim
Chad gadya, chad gadya

Then came the stick that beat the dog
That bit the cat
That ate the kid
My father bought for two  zuzim
Chad gadya, chad gadya

Then came the fire that burnt the stick
That beat the dog
That bit the cat
That ate the kid
My father bought for two  zuzim
Chad gadya, chad gadya

Then came the water that quenched the fire
That burnt the stick
That beat the dog
That bit the cat
That ate the kid
My father bought for two  zuzim
Chad gadya, chad gadya

Then came the ox that drank the water
That quenched the fire
That burnt the stick
That beat the dog
That bit the cat
That ate the kid
My father bought for two  zuzim
Chad gadya, chad gadya

Then came the butcher that killed the ox
That drank the water
That quenched the fire
That burnt the stick
That beat the dog
That bit the cat
That ate the kid
My father bought for two  zuzim
Chad gadya, chad gadya

Then came the Angel of Death
Who slayed the butcher that killed the ox
That drank the water
That quenched the fire
That burnt the stick
That beat the dog
That bit the cat
That ate the kid
My father bought for two  zuzim
Chad gadya, chad gadya

Then came the Holy One, Blessed Be He
Who destroyed the Angel of Death
Who slayed the butcher that killed the ox
That drank the water
That quenched the fire
That burnt the stick
That beat the dog
That bit the cat
That ate the kid
My father bought for two  zuzim
Chad gadya, chad gadya
Chad gadya, chad gadya