On Elijah and Trans Day of Visibility

Haggadah Section: Hallel

The theme of openness and inclusion – Audacious Hospitality at its finest – is emphasized throughout our Passover seder, from the early expression of “may all who are hungry come and eat” through the penultimate act of opening the door for the prophet Elijah. This Passover there are many people living with fear behind closed doors: students fearful in the wake of school shootings; DREAMers and other immigrants fearful of deportation; transgender and gender non-conforming people, fearful of harassment and discrimination.

Opening the door for Elijah is a symbolic expression of our hopes for a better future—the world as it should be—even as it recalls our historical fears (hiding from violence and oppression, especially during Passover when there have been many antisemitic attacks).  The closed door reminds us of generations who hid their Jewish identity to avoid violence and oppression.

The sharp increase in incidents of anti-Semitism in the past year, especially in schools, may cause us to feel that we are again objects of distrust, that living openly and authentically is an ongoing struggle.  I am also troubled by a 2016 National Center for Transgender Equality survey of the transgender community, which showed 78% of students who “expressed a transgender identity or gender non-conformity while in grades K-12 reported harassment.”  These troubling statistics demonstrate that living visibly as a transgender or gender non-conforming person is brave – and often unsafe.  Oppression of transgender and gender non-conforming students is institutionalized when students are denied access to restrooms and other facilities that correspond to their gender identity.

Throughout the Passover seder we are reminded that we were oppressed, forced to live inauthentic lives, in Egyptian servitude and throughout our history.  The words of Exodus 13:8 instruct us to “tell your child on that day, saying: ‘This is because of what God did for me when I went free from Egypt.’”  And we are reminded to open our doors to those who are hungry, to heed the words of Exodus 23:19 “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”

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