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Night of Questions!
Invite all of the guest to co-lead the Seder! Good questions are the key to a great Seder. So, we have provided a list of questions. Some are designed to go deep, some to engage individual’s interests, and others are just to be funny and lighten the mood.
Suggested Instructions: Write each question on an index card, and give each guest a handful of cards. Move through the order of the Haggadah. It is up to the guests to decide when to ask each question. So, the same question will lead to a very different discussion depending on when it is asked during the night.
In the commencement of the war of 1861, I enlisted from Cleveland, Ohio, in the Union cause... twenty of my comrades and co-religionists belonging to the Regiment, united in a request to our commanding officer for relief from duty, in order that we might keep the holydays, which he readily acceded to. The first point was gained, and, as the Paymaster had lately visited the Regiment, he had left us plenty of greenbacks. Our next business was to find some suitable person to proceed to Cincinnati, Ohio, to buy us מצות [Matzos] Our sutler being a co-religionist and going home to that city, readily undertook to send them.
We were anxiously awaiting to receive our matzos and about the middle of the morning of ערב פסח [Eve of Passover] a supply train arrived in camp, and to our delight seven barrels of Matzos. On opening them, we were surprised and pleased to find that our thoughtful sutler had enclosed two Hagedahs and prayer-books. We were now able to keep the seder nights, if we could only obtain the other requisites for that occasion. We held a consultation and decided to send parties to forage in the country while a party stayed to build a log hut for the services.
About the middle of the afternoon the foragers arrived, having been quite successful. We obtained two kegs of cider, a lamb, several chickens and some eggs. Horseradish or parsley we could not obtain, but in lieu we found a weed, whose bitterness, I apprehend, exceeded anything our forefathers "enjoyed". We were still in a great quandary; we were like the man who drew the elephant in the lottery. We had the lamb, but did not know what part was to represent it at the table; but Yankee ingenuity prevailed, and it was decided to cook the whole and put it on the table, then we could dine off it, and be sure we had the right part. The necessaries for the choroutzes we could not obtain, so we got a brick which, rather hard to digest, reminded us, by looking at it, for what purpose it was intended.
At dark we had all prepared, and were ready to commence the service. There being no חזן present, I was selected to read the services, which I commenced by asking the blessing of the Almighty on the food before us, and to preserve our lives from danger. The ceremonies were passing off very nicely, until we arrived at the part where the bitter herb was to be taken. We all had a large portion of the herb ready to eat at the moment I said the blessing; each eat his portion, when horrors! what a scene ensued in our little congregation, it is impossible for my pen to describe. The herb was very bitter and very fiery like Cayenne pepper, and excited our thirst to such a degree, that we forgot the law authorizing us to drink only four cups, and the consequence was we drank up all the cider.
Those that drank the more freely became excited, and one thought he was Moses, another Aaron, and one had the audacity to call himself Pharaoh. The consequence was a skirmish, with nobody hurt, only Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh, had to be carried to the camp, and there left in the arms of Morpheus. This slight incident did not take away our appetite, and, after doing justice to our lamb, chickens and eggs, we resumed the second portion of the service without anything occurring worthy of note.
There, in the wild woods of West Virginia, away from home and friends, we consecrated and offered up to the ever-loving G-d of Israel our prayers and sacrifice. I doubt whether the spirits of our forefathers, had they been looking down on us, standing there with our arms by our side ready for an attack, faithful to our G-d and our cause, would have imagined themselves amongst mortals, enacting this commemoration of the scene that transpired in Egypt.
Seder on Pesach Illustration by Kyiv-born artist Zoya Cherkassky-Nnadi
As LGBTQ+ Jews and allies, each of us is unique.
This year, Keshet staff and board chose food and objects for an additional Seder plate to represent our communities.
Download our plate, add your own food/object to the middle, share it with us using #MyKeshetSeder, and tell us what it means to you!
Art by Sol Weiss
About our plate:
“Rhubarb’s bright pink stalks are unapologetic and eye-catching, with a sour-sweet flavor that’s not for everyone. As a femme, queer woman, I want to channel that same unapologetic energy in the bright and colorful ways I express myself and embrace the unique flavor I bring.”
Talia Makowsky (she/her)
Keshet Communications Manager, Baltimore, MD
“Rambutans have a spiky, threatening exterior that belies a sweet, tender interior, reminding me of the simultaneous resilience and tenderness within communities of queer and trans Jewish youth of color.”
Is Perlman (they/them)
Keshet Youth Engagement Intern, New York, NY
“Growing up in Southern Indiana, my hometown hosted an annual apple butter festival. It brings back memories of home, and the sweet and spice of trans Jews in the Midwest.”
Issac Young (he/him)
Keshet Midwest Youth Engagement Manager, Chicago, IL
“I chose vegan collard greens to represent queer, Black Jews. Collard greens have been a source of sustenance for Black Americans in the South, both during and after enslavement, and remain a staple of soul food to this very day.”
Chaim Ezra Harrison (he/him)
Keshet Communications Manager, Detroit, MI
“I chose a starfruit to represent the unique and energizing community of Jews in Florida who are taking action against oppressive anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.”
Jon Cohen (he/him)
Keshet Director of Community Mobilization, Miami, FL
“Every opal is unique and within the stone is a rainbow of colors. To me, this symbolizes the brilliant, beautiful, and resilient people within our LGBTQ+ communities everywhere.”
Davia Loren (she/her)
Keshet Board Member, Seattle, WA
“16th Century Kabbalist Moshe Cordovero compared the universe to a mustard seed. May the bitter spiciness of deli mustard remind us as trans Jews that in our communal grief there is also life.”
Jay Smith (they/them)
Keshet Chief Communications Officer, Northampton, MA
While the items on a seder plate may seem set in stone, substitutions have always been part of the Jewish experience. Potatoes and Onions have been used in place of spring greens since the Jewish diaspora reached Eastern Europe, and vegetarians have used blood-red beets instead of shank bones. Grocery stores today are internationalized, but how could we reimagine a seder plate filled with items our Asian ancestors could have found easily?
Lamb Shankbone (Zeroah)
The roasted shank bone commemorates the paschal (lamb) sacrifice made the night the ancient Hebrews fled Egypt. Some say it symbolizes the outstretched arm of G-d (zeroah can also mean “arm”). Lamb is a popular meat choice in Central Asia and India, where other red meats may be less popular for religious reasons.
Wasabi brings tears to the eyes and recalls the bitterness of slavery.
Yu Choy (Hazaret)
Yu Choy is a second bitter herb, usually a leafy green, used in korech or the Hillel sandwich. Many Jews do not include Hazeret on the seder plate, and instead, use maror for all rituals involving bitterness.
Matzah reminds us of the sacrifices our elders, Asian and Jewish alike had to make when relocating from a homeland to a new and unknown destination.
Apple Chutney (Charoset)
A chutney of apples, nuts, wine, and cinnamon. Coming from the Hebrew word cheres, meaning
“clay,” it represents the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves to make bricks. Chutneys can be customized to incorporate a variety of different ingredients beyond the traditional four.
Cilantro, a common herb in all Asian cuisine, symbolizes the freshness of spring and the initial flourishing of the Israelites during their first years in Egypt.
Maekbanseok Eggs (Baytsah)
In Korea, eggs are sometimes prepared in the “Maekbanseok” style, which involves baking the eggs on elvan stone, giving the eggs a rich brown color and a nutty taste. The roasted egg is a symbol in many different cultures, usually signifying springtime and renewal. Here it stands in place of one of the sacrificial offerings which were performed in the days of the Second Temple.
This fruit native to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand is known for its strong odor and spiky exterior. Here, it symbolizes a rejection of the model minority myth.
These tropical Chinese fruits are known for their sweet, fleshy interiors. Here, it symbolizes summer and the importance of self-care in preserving Asian futures.
This traditional Korean dish is made of salted and fermented vegetables. Here, it symbolizes Asian-American resilience and rage.
This year, Moving Traditions invites you to slow down while you wash your hands at the start of your seder; and contemplate the depth contained in this underappreciated ritual. Handwashing has the power to set the tone for the evening, helping lift up acts of self-care, connection, belonging, and gratitude — all essential elements to our overall wellbeing.
Before the seder, prepare to pass around a cup for pouring water, a bowl to catch the water, and some towels for drying hands.
At the Seder, leader or another reader begins:
As we move into this second step of the seder, the ritual of washing our hands without a blessing, let us set the intention for a seder that supports the wellbeing of each of us gathered here tonight.
Kli / Vessel
Raise the water cup and say:
The first vessels used for ritual handwashing during the time of the ancient Temple were made of bronze. The Zohar, a foundational Jewish mystical text, teaches that bronze has the attribute of compassion, rachamim. As we lift the vessel of water, may we have a moment of compassion, for ourselves and others, and bring this attribute to our seder.
Mayim / Water
Begin to pour the water three times over each hand, and invite another participant to read the following meditation:
As we pour water on our hands, we recall the prophet Miriam, Moses’ sister. It is taught that wherever she walked, a wellspring of water traveled with her. Even in the barrenness of the desert, she remained connected to the life-giving energy of the natural world. Think for a moment how you are connected to the natural world – to the spring season and its awakening – and to the ways that the natural world nourishes both body and spirit.
Shifshuf / Rubbing
After the water is poured, it is customary to rub the hands together to ensure that water covers every part of our hands. While this is done, ask someone to read the following:
Rabbi Toba Spitzer writes that water is a fruitful image for God. She writes, “Water does not command or judge – it flows and irrigates, nourishes and sustains.” As we rub our hands together and shake off the water, we can each consider how we might, even at this seder tonight, move away from a commanding and judging stance towards a more nourishing and sustaining way of being with one another.
Netilah / Lifting
The final act of hand washing is lifting the hands. As the hands are lifted, have someone share this reflection:
The 19th-century teacher Sfat Emet taught that we raise our hands at the end of handwashing to emulate the way that Aaron, the high priest, would lift his hands to thank all those who helped him to do his sacred work of leading the community. Aaron was the brother of Moses and Miriam. He is known as a rodef shalom, a pursuer of peace. As we lift our hands after the washing, let us express gratitude for those who helped make this seder possible – and for anyone else in our lives who has helped us recently in a way that made a difference.
Yes, I know, your seder table is noisy. There is a lot happening and a lot of things to think about and see and smell and taste and hear and sing and tell and retell. How do I practice the Mussar trait we call “Hitboddidut” – being alone with oneself? How can I find even a moment in the midst of this sacred bedlam?
So, I give you one thought. It is at the very beginning of the Seder. The candles have been lit; the first cup of wine sipped; hands washed without a blessing; parsley dipped in salt water and eaten. And we raise up the Matzah. But not just any Matzah – the middle one in the pile of three. The one that is inside – the one you have to dig at to get to – the one that is the inner you. And we break it. Listen to it crack or try to recreate that moment in your memory. That sound is the voice your inner being calling out for attention. Listen to it and silence the electronics, the radio, the news, the noises of ordinary living and hear the truth of this moment.
None of us are whole. The Matzah breaks into uneven pieces. The small one we keep and call it the bread of affliction. The larger piece is hidden and becomes redemption. The smaller one is a mirror of our present. The larger one is a promise of our potential. The message is liberating. We are more than we think we are; the cracks in our souls may hurt but they are a promise of souls on a path to our own personal perfection. We are works in process on a journey from Egypt to the land of promise.
BREAK THE MIDDLE MATZAH IN SILENCE
On The Importance Of Questions
The eldest reads:
Nobel Prize winning physicist Isaac Isadore Rabi’s mother did not ask him: “What did you learn in school today?” each day. She asked him: “Did you ask a good question today?”
The oldest teenager, or the person older than 19, yet closest to the teen years reads:
Why do the same questions get asked each year?
I probably have more questions than the youngest, why does a child ask the questions?
How come we ask these questions, but you rarely give a straight answer?
Questioning is a sign of freedom, and so we begin with questions.
To ritualize only one answer would be to deny that there can be many, often conflicting answers. To think that life is only black and white, or wine and Maror, bitter or sweet, or even that the cup is half empty or half full is to enslave ourselves to simplicity.
Each of us feels the challenge to search for our own answers. The ability to question is only the first stage of freedom. The search for answers is the next.
Can we fulfill the promise of the Exodus in our own lives if we do not search for our own answers?
Does every question have an answer? Is the ability to function without having all the answers one more stage of liberation? Can we be enslaved to an obsessive search for the answer?
Do you have the answer?
Four Questions - Ma Nishtanah sing-along
What makes this night different from all [other] nights?
1) On all nights we need not dip even once, on this night we do so twice?
2) On all nights we eat chametz or matzah, and on this night only matzah?
3) On all nights we eat any kind of vegetables, and on this night maror?
4) On all nights we eat sitting upright or reclining, and on this night we all recline?
Mah nishtanah halyla hazeh mikol halaylot
1) She'bechol halaylot ain anu matbilin afilu pa'am echat, halyla hazeh shtei pe'amim?
2) She'bechol halaylot anu ochlim chametz o matza, halyla hazeh kulo maztah?
3) She'bechol halaylot anu ochlim she'ar yerakot, halyla hazeh maror?
4) She'bechol halaylot anu ochlim bain yoshvin bain mesubin, halyla hazeh kulanu mesubin?
Tate ich vil bei dir fregen di fir kashes:
Ma nishtana halayla hazeh mikol haleylos. Vos iz anderesh fun der nacht fun Pesach fun ale necht fun a gants yor?
1) Di ershte kashe iz,
Sheb'chol haleylos eyn anu matbilin afilu pa'am echas, halayla hazeh sh'tey p'amim?
Ale necht fun a gants yor tunken mir nisht ayn afileh eyn mol, ober di nacht fun peysach, tunken mir ayn tsvey mol — ayn mol karpas in zaltz vasser, di tsveyte mol maror in charoses?
2) Di tsveyte kashe iz,
Sheb'chol haleylos anu ochlin chameytz oy matzah, halayla hazeh kulo matzah?
Ale necht fun a gants yor esn mir chomets ader matseh, ober di nakht fun peysakh, esn mir nor matseh?
3) Di drite kashe iz,
Sheb'chol haleylos anu ochlin sh'ar yerakos, halayla hazeh maror?
Ale necht fun a gants yor esn mir alerlay grintsen, ober di nacht fun peysach, esn mir nor bitere grintsen?
4) Di ferte kashe iz,
Sheb'chol haleylos onu ochlin beyn yoshvin uveyn m'subin, halayla hazeh kulanu m'subin?
Ale necht fun a gants yor esn mir say zitsndikerheit un say ongeleynterheit, ober di nakht fun peysach, esn mir nor ongeleynterheit?
Tate ich hob bei dir gefrekdt di di fir kashes yetzt gib mir a teretz.
Over the course of Jewish history, the Four Questions have changed in number, order, and substance. In one of the earliest iterations from an 11th century manuscript of the Mishnah, we asked three questions:
1. On all other nights we dip once, on this night we dip twice.
2. On all other nights we eat chametz and matzah and on this night only matzah.
3. On all other nights we eat meat roasted, boiled and cooked, on this night only roasted.
These three questions related to the three required foods of the seder: Pesach (the roasted lamb), Matzah, and Maror (which is dipped).
Dipping was asked first, because in the Middle Eastern culture of our ancestors, food was mainly eaten by dipping pita and vegetables into various dips and salads. Dipping would have been the norm at any meal, but dipping twice would have been unusual and worth asking about. The question of dipping remains the first question at Sephardi/Mizrahi seders today.
Over time, we began to dip other vegetables and the question of dipping became separated from the maror. Some seder plates have a separate space for chazeret (lettuce) that is distinct from the maror (bitter herb), though you can use lettuce in both spots. (Does our seder plate tonight have a space for chazeret? What did we put there?) To address the maror, a question was specifically added to the Mah Nishtana, so that the four questions became: dipping, matzah, maror, and roasted lamb.
Following the destruction of the Temple, we stopped asking about the Passover sacrifice and replaced it with the question of leaning. Again, leaning was a common way of eating in the Middle East, but once we were in the diaspora (especially in Europe), we were introduced to eating at tables. It's much harder to lean and eat while seated in a chair at a table, so the question of leaning/reclining was added to the Mah Nishtana as it became unusual in our everyday lives.
Some Haggadot kept the question of the roasted meat, but changed it to the past tense: "On all other nights we eat meat whether roasted, broiled or cooked, on this night we used to eat in the Temple only roast meat." Those Haggadot then had five questions, though by this point almost all Haggadot have removed the past tense question.
As we continue through the seder tonight, we are encouraged to ask even more questions!
Tonight, we are reflecting on some of the ways in which Asian Jews have come to be. We ask questions on their behalf and look for loving answers.
The Asian Jewish Adoptee:
The Asian Jewish adoptee has a lot of questions, some of which they know how to ask–and some they don’t. Who am I? Am I Jewish enough? Here are some possible answers. This child is a complex identity constantly unfolding; they may not have all the information they need, but they get to search for themselves, write their own story. As for whether they are “Jewish enough”?That, too, is a tale they get to tell, yet it starts from a foundation that affirms, yes, they are Jewish enough.
The Mixed Race or Interfaith Asian Jew:
In a society that often inserts their own opinions on who this child is “really like” or “actually is”, this child looks at them, and proclaims, “why do I have to choose?” This child knows that there is a struggle, yes - but more so beauty in having a foot in more than one door, of being “many” instead of “one”.
The Patrilineal Asian Jew:
This child may struggle with spaces that do not recognize the wholeness and completeness of their Jewish self. Still, this child persists in acknowledging both their intrinsic wholeness and holiness as a Jewish person.
The Asian Jew-by-Choice:
This child has come home to Judaism after a long period of learning and introspection. During this time, they may have wondered, “Where has this religion, and these people, been all my life?” or perhaps worried about whether they were truly ready to join. Perhaps they traveled alone, or with a partner. In any case, when the questions are turned toward them, saying, “How are you Jewish?” their answer will always be, “Because I am.”
To all of these children, we say “welcome.” We see you, and you belong.
They say my name means bitter water, or in other translations bitter sea. And why wouldn’t it? My first memories were watching my brother Moses’ basket floating away, pushed by our mother who saved him the only way she could — by giving him away. We were in hiding then; hiding from the laws of the land and the men who obeyed them. Bitter is the pain of subjugation and the laws we enforce upon our fellow human beings.
He sailed away along the currents of the Nile as I watched his fate crystallize.
I never stood by when I could stand up. I got our Mother a position at the palace so she could nurse Moses and continue to be his source of life. While he lived as a Prince of Egypt, I lived in the shadows.
But in fact, it was I who cultivated the soil out of which Moses came to exist:
Before Moses was born, the Pharaoh decreed to throw all Jewish males into the Nile. My father believed if sons had to be killed, it was futile to have more children, and he divorced my Mother.
“But Father!” I exclaimed, “This makes you worse than Pharaoh. Pharaoh decreed the death of men; you decree the death of men and women. In Pharaoh’s world, there exists the possibility that new life will survive. In your world, life is destroyed before it even has the chance to be created.”
The understanding that women also have the right to exist in a world even where there are no men had completely escaped my father’s consciousness. Rather than cower to our oppressors, we chose to go forth with the creation of life.
Within the bitterness, the pain, there was a sliver of hope that we could continue to procreate, and shreds of life would survive. From our bitterness and our strife we marched on, imbued with hope, and my brother Moses was born.
Our story of adversity continued, as we begged to be freed from the chains of slavery, and the 10 plagues ensued. When even the plagues did not free us, God parted the Red Sea. And so we danced. I took my tambourine and led the women to sing and dance through this path towards freedom. The sliver of hope had actualized into a sea of promise.
Going back to my name — bitter water. While water is often bitter, it can also be sweet. Much of our story is shaped around water and like water, our story ebbs and flows, sometimes clear and other times muddy. Water is a source of life, as well as a source of change and transition. The currents of the Nile brought my brother to safety. When we crossed the Sea, it was the absence of water, the passage of dry land, that transitioned us to safety. The walls of the Red Sea defined and etched the path to the Promised Land.
And so when you drink the bitter water, let my spirit join with yours. Know that you make mistakes, and let them lead you forward. Turn to those around you and raise each other up. Drink your bitter water, and may it make you a fighter and leader, yes, but also
a singer and dancer.
ChatGPT Prompt: Recite the story of the 10 plagues as if you are witnessing them as a WWE commentator
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the ultimate showdown between Moses and Pharaoh! We're about to witness an epic battle between the forces of good and evil, as God unleashes His power to deliver the Israelites from the clutches of slavery in Egypt. Hold on to your seats, folks, because things are about to get intense!
And here we go, the first plague: blood! The Nile turns red and the fish die, leaving the Egyptians in utter chaos! Pharaoh's magicians try to replicate the miracle, but they're no match for the power of God.
Up next, we have the frogs! They're everywhere, folks! In the streets, in the houses, even in the beds! Pharaoh's heart is hardened, but Moses and Aaron are persistent in their demand for freedom.
The third plague is lice! These tiny creatures are causing a lot of discomfort for the Egyptians, and even Pharaoh's magicians can't seem to get rid of them. Moses and Aaron are making their presence felt, folks!
And here comes the fourth plague: swarms of flies! The Egyptians are in complete disarray, and Pharaoh is starting to feel the heat. But will he give in to Moses and Aaron's demands?
Oh my goodness, folks, it's the fifth plague: diseased livestock! The cattle, sheep, and camels are all dropping dead, and the Egyptians are in a state of panic. Will Pharaoh finally relent and let the Israelites go?
Next up, we have the sixth plague: boils! The Egyptians are covered in painful sores, and even Pharaoh's magicians are unable to stand before Moses and Aaron. The power of God is undeniable, folks!
And now, the seventh plague: hail! This is no ordinary storm, folks. The hailstones are huge, and they're destroying everything in their path. Pharaoh is starting to get the message, but will he act on it?
The eighth plague is locusts! These insects are devouring everything in sight, leaving the Egyptians with nothing to eat. Pharaoh is feeling the pressure, but will he let the Israelites go?
And here we have the ninth plague: darkness! It's pitch black, folks. The Egyptians can't see a thing, and they're terrified. Will this be enough to finally convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go?
And finally, the tenth plague: the death of the firstborn! This is the ultimate showdown, folks. God is about to deliver the final blow to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The Israelites are spared, but the Egyptians are devastated. The power of God has prevailed!
What an incredible series of events, folks! It's been an absolute pleasure to witness these miracles unfold. Until next time, this is your WWE commentator signing off!
Adapted from Mah Nishtana - A GLGBT+ Ally Haggadah, 2005.
By Anonymous, Rabbi Micah Buck-Yael, Rabbi Kerry Chaplin, Makella Craelius, Elianna Goldstein, Rabbi Avi Katz-Orlow, Jessica Meyer, Amy Sandler, David Schwartz, Emily Silver, and Aaron Weininger.
Updated by Rabbi Micah Buck-Yael in 2022
As Jews, we are obligated to treat all people with humility and respect, regardless of differences. At a time when LGBTQ+ rights remain under attack, we must continue the work for full equality and dignity in all spaces. At the same time, we must also honor and celebrate each individual win, no matter how small or incomplete, that has gotten us here. Dayeinu reminds us to celebrate every step of the way.
Just as with the original dayeinu, we say dayeinu not because we’re satisfied with where we are, but because we and our communities and our ancestors worked and fought to bring us forward, and every advance to liberation deserves celebration.
To express our personal responsibility we offer an alternate take on Dayeinu:
If God had given us life, but not the ability to love,
If God had given us the ability to love, but not the freedom to love who we love and be who we are,
If God had given us the freedom to love who we love and be who we are, but not the freedom to live as ourselves,
If God had given us the freedom to live as ourselves, but not to express our love however we choose,
If God had given us the freedom to express our love however we choose, but not given the people around us the empathy to understand our love,
If God had given the people around us the empathy to understand our love, but not the willingness to celebrate it with us,
If we were to ensure the Jewish people never return to slavery, but not to protect LGBTQ people from violence,
It would not be enough for us.
If we were to protect LGBTQ people from violence, but not to include them in our ceremonies,
It would not be enough for us.
If we were to include LGBTQ people in our ceremonies, but not to treat them with honor and respect,
It would not be enough for us.
If we were to treat LGBTQ people with kindness, but not to make an effort to truly understand their struggle,
It would not be enough for us.
If we were to end LGBTQ oppression, but allow others around us to remain oppressed,
It would not be enough for us.
According to Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger (1798-1871, Prussia), each cup symbolizes a different stage of life. The first cup represents childhood, getting started. The second cup, as part of Maggid, represents youth and education, the third cup, concluding the meal, is connected to adulthood and providing food for one’s family. The final cup, part of Hallel//praise, represents old age and gratitude.
Many queer thinkers, including J. Halberstam and Jules Ryan, have powerfully critiqued a straightforward model of “life stages” as heteronormative and in conflict with how queer people actually experience time.
Do you relate to having distinct life stages?
Do they feel authentic or prescriptive to you?
For the second cup, what is one aspect of your educational experience that felt particularly liberatory and you want to carry with you?
Matzah in a stained glass window, designed by DALL E
In order for collective liberation to occur, we must all undergo a radical transformation. Oppression poisons us all with hopelessness that we must overcome and carceral thinking that we must unlearn. We are challenged to “make ourselves a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31) by embracing teshuva, repentance, a word which literally means ‘return.’ Judaism believes that each one of us has a pure soul we can return to, a secret place inside ourselves we can find our way back to, where there is plenty of room for growth. Far from stigmatizing those who did wrong and then returned to what is right, the Talmud holds that “where those who make teshuva stand, not even the completely righteous can stand.” Put differently: by putting our broken hearts back together again, we make them more whole than they ever were before.
✧ What steps can we take to transform ourselves?
בְּרוּכָה אַתְּ שְׁכִינָה, רוּחַ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵאת פְּרִי הַגָפֶן
(Fem:) Brucha at Shechinah, ru’ach ha-olam, boreyt p’ree ha-gafen.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָפֶן
(Masc:) Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, borey p’ree ha-gafen.
Blessed are You, who creates the fruits of the vine.
Lean to the left and drink the wine or grape juice.
Near the end of the Passover seder, as we open the door to welcome Elijah the prophet, we recite the shefokh khamatkha, Pour Out Your Wrath: a prayer in which we request that G-d’s divine vengeance be poured upon those who persecute us. It is a challenging text. And yet, it is only through radically embracing wrath that we can understand ourselves and each other.
As queer and trans Jewish youth of color, our relationship with rage is… complicated. For many of us, our belonging in Jewish spaces is contingent upon our ability to be “respectable,” making it difficult to express anger without facing racialized responses. Even within our own communities, cultural pushes for assimilation can make anger seem like a deterrent to our community’s greater good.
Despite its unwelcome presence in many of our communities, we know that wrath pushes us toward liberatory action. It is vital for our communities to acknowledge and make space for it.
Rage is a tool for liberation. Below are reflections and discussion questions to integrate into your Passover Seder. We hope that these provide an opportunity to reflect on contemporary persecution and imagine a better world.
Recite and discuss the questions below. Then, read the answers from Queer and Trans Jewish Youth of Color (QTJYOC) while discussing your own.
What fills you with rage, and what does it feel like as it moves through your body?
microaggressions / ableism / racism / having to constantly justify my presence in spaces / my identities not being believed / racism in Jewish spaces / anti-trans legislation / not feeling belonging in the communities i belong to.
Rage sometimes feels scary / difficult / frightening / exciting / good to release
What does your rage teach you?
If I want to honor any of my feelings, I must honor them all. My rage reminds me that I am complex, and I have to honor that complexity. / My rage reminds me of my convictions and shows what truly matters to me. / My rage moves me to think deeper about myself, to analyze and look at why I feel the way I do.
What is Jewish about rage?
So much of our history and practice is about questioning and learning. In order to question and learn, we have to look at what enrages us / From a historical standpoint, Jewish people have a long history of being vulnerable, and it only makes sense that our history and our liberation have a strong relationship with rage. / It’s very Jewish to allow yourself to feel and to question what exists. / So much of my relationship with Judaism is related to my belief in justice, and I view rage as a vital part of reckoning with the world we want to build.
How can you transform your rage?
When I feel myself fill with rage, I first take some time to rest and take care of myself. That way, I can emerge from my rage feeling better equipped to be honest and take action. / When I feel rage, my first step is to get out of it. I want to embrace the space between rage and neutrality as a chance to both identify what I believe in and act with the balance necessary to treating others with compassion. / My rage is a tool for imagining, an opportunity to fight for myself without the self-consciousness I usually feel.
What do you want for the future of QTJYOC? (for those who are not QTJYOC - what do you want for the future of your communities and the intersections between them?)
I want people to know that we exist. Our identities are not mutually exclusive. / I want QTJYOC to have people in their lives that believe in them. / I want our communities to have more deep conversations. / I want people to see us for all of the intersections we contain, rather than being reduced to specific aspects of who we are. / I want QTYOC to know that a beautiful future of liberation is possible, and that we know that from seeing each other.
Read the following responses:
I will honor my anger and let it move through me.
I will use my rage as a chance to imagine what is possible.
I will recognize my wrath as evidence that I am complex - and this complexity deserves to be honored.
This resource is a collaboration with Keshet and JYCA's Jews Against Marginalization (JAM) program is dedicated to supporting and uplifting Jewish Youth of Color (JYOC). We are proud to partner to highlight Queer & Trans JYOC stories, perspectives, and experiences.
Prompt: The passover seder just ended. You're a Jewish mom guilting your kids into staying to help clean up, but also tying in the common themes of getting married and producing grandkids. Go.
Alright, alright, everyone, the seder is over, but the night is not yet done! It's time to clean up and put everything away. I know you're all tired, but think of it this way: if you don't help me clean up, you're basically telling me that you don't care about your dear old mother.
And while we're on the subject of caring, have any of you thought about getting married and giving me some grandchildren? I mean, who's going to be here to clean up after me when I'm old and gray? You can't expect me to do it all myself, can you?
I'm just saying, it wouldn't kill you to take some responsibility and show me that you care about your family. Think about how proud your Bubbe would be if she saw you cleaning up after the seder like good Jewish children. And if you happen to meet someone nice at the seder tonight, all the better!
So let's get to work, and maybe, just maybe, by this time next year, we'll have some more little ones running around the seder table. And who knows, maybe they'll even help us clean up!
Hava Shapiro (1878-1943) entered the “Garden of Eden” – the world of Hebrew learning and literature – as a child in Slavuta, Volhynia (modern-day Ukraine) in the Pale of Settlement. Calling herself Eim Kol Hai (“Mother of All Living,” like the biblical Eve), she became a partner to the male creators of modern Hebrew literature. Over a four-decade career, she wrote fiction and reported for the Hebrew press, as well as kept the first known Hebrew diary by a woman.
Reading for the front of the Haggadah – Preparations
At home, the great preparations for the days of Passover began – immediately after Purim. Grandfather would begin checking his long beard after each meal, touching it with his fingertips and checking it for fear of breadcrumbs. All the closets and crates and chests were opened, and we took out all the drawers and belongings whose purpose and very existence we knew nothing of all year long [...]
A week before the festival is matzah-baking day at our house: a great holiday for us. Our studies cease completely. Extensive preparation bustles around us. In the large kitchen, long tables covered with white cloth are set up across the length of the room. All along the tables, from end to end, women wrapped in white aprons with new kerchiefs on their heads stand like a trained army. From time to time, the female supervisor brings in the dough from the room next door, carrying it aloft. She divides it into pieces, according to the number of women helping. Each one receives her piece and tries to best the others in smoothing and rounding the matzah, nicely, nicely. And grandfather hurries. He stands at one end of the table right next to the oven, his face ablaze and in complete concentration. Around him are the other men involved in the work. They are rolling little iron wheels, with sharp edges that are white with heat, over the matzahs. Their sleeves are rolled up, and with marvelous speed they are rushing to stretch the prepared matzah onto the baker’s shovel while the baker, who stands in front of the oven, stretches out the shovel at regular intervals, his face aglow, his long khalat [Russian, robe] unbuttoned, and his yarmulke falling off his head [...]
Reading for before the Four Questions:
I also know “the Questions” [of the Haggadah, typically asked by the youngest boy] by heart, but no one pays any attention to me; the main attraction is my brother. Inside I am seething. I would have asked them even better than he did. But me, they send to sit with the women. Only my mother sees my pain and consoles me with the wonderful caresses of her eyes.
Reading for before the Magid:
Another Passover Eve in the capitol of blessed Ukraine [in 1919].
The days of Passover approached and [unruly brigades of soldiers] were still guarding the inhabitants [...] With every passing evening came new attacks, murders, and “searches,” and with each new day, new threats. Come evening, you couldn’t be sure whether you would live to see the light of the next day. And in leaving your house you had no idea whether you’d ever return to it. And thus we lived and prepared for the holiday [...]
These messengers of destruction devised something special for Passover. They captured the most prominent Jews, placed them in detention, and announced that they would not be released alive unless their fellow Jews released the “wealth” under their control and the arms that had been turned over to the [Jewish] youth serving in the self-defense units [...]
As chair of the local branch of the Histadrut ha-tziyyonit [the Zionist Organization], I was placed on one of these lists [...] Miraculously, this became known to my friends in the nick of time. They were able to rush over and warn me, and I was able to seek refuge in the house of an acquaintance. There I stayed, locked up and alone in a sealed room.
[On the first night of Passover], I left my room. My gentile acquaintance, a friend of my father, took pity on me and agreed to bring me to the house where I knew my mother was staying.
Dressed in men’s clothing, wearing a round miter on my head like a papka [Russian, priest], my acquaintance led me through the streets that were devoid of even the shadow of a living creature [...]
[When we reached the house], I called out my name in a whisper outside the door, but my muffled voice sounded to them in their agitated state, of course, like that of a disguised Cossack.
Footsteps were heard. I raised my voice slightly. The door opened, and confused and terrified stares fastened upon me. In my confusion, I forgot that my clothes would likely frighten my relatives. Only my mother recognized me immediately and charged toward me; then the others also recognized me. Joy and gladness, hugs and kisses.
“In the same way that a second ago our terror was turned into joy, so shall all the troubles in which we find ourselves be turned into gladness, and we shall all go out from darkness into light [me’afeilah le’orah – in the closing blessing of the Maggid section of the Haggadah],” said Mother, her face aglow, and our hearts were suddenly filled with shining, warm hope.
*Source: Originally published in Ha’Olam, English translation in “To Tread on New Ground”: Selected Writings of Hava Shapiro, eds. Carole B. Balin and Wendy I. Zierler (Wayne State University Press, 2014).
Prepared by Rabbi Carole B. Balin for Haggadah "For Our Freedom"
Rabbi Carole B. Balin, Ph.D.
As a prolific reseacher, writer and teacher, Rabbi Carole B. Balin, Ph.D. is known for her fresh ideas, authenticity and way with words. She is the first woman to earn tenure at the NY campus of her alma mater, Hebrew Union College, where she is professor emerita of history. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Wellesley College, she earned a doctorate at Columbia University and honed her spiritual practice at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. Chair of the Jewish Women’s Archive board, Carole speaks and publishes widely on gender and the Jewish experience. She is currently at work on a narrative non-fiction book about shifting Jewish identity as told through the stories of bat mitzvah girls since the first one in the US in 1922.
May You, the One who blessed our Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and our Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah – bless the soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the volunteers and all those who help them, those who defend our Ukrainian cities, towns, and villages, along its borders from the West to the East, from North to South, on land, at sea, and in the air. May the Holy One, Blessed Be God help us defeat our enemies.
May the Holy One, Blessed be God, protect and save our soldiers and civilians from any disaster, defeat, misfortune, disease, and distress, and grant blessing, inspiration, and success to all they do. And may the verse be fulfilled for them: "For it is Hashem, your God, who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you". And let us say Amen.
The prayer has been adapted and translated from the Jewish prayer book Siddur "Prayer for the Israeli Defense Forces".
How have I come to understand or experience liberation?
In what ways can Passover help me connect to ancient and modern forms of slavery and oppression?
In addition to the injustices mentioned above, what other tragedies am I remembering this Passover?
Moving forward, what are ways in which I can better learn and become informed about injustices experienced around the world?
How can we introduce these stories into our families and Passover seders?
How has ancestral trauma (the trauma my ancestors experienced) shown up in my life? My body?
What are ways in which I can begin to heal suffering that has been passed down to you?
What does Latin-Jewish joy look like for you?
What do you appreciate most about your multifaceted identity?
¿Cómo has llegado a comprender o desear la liberación?
¿De qué manera puede Pésaj ayudarnme a conectar con temas de esclavitud y opresión?
Además de las injusticias mencionadas anteriormente, ¿qué otras tragedias recuerdo este Pesaj?
En el futuro, ¿de qué maneras puedo informarme sobre las injusticias experimentadas en todo el mundo?
¿Cómo puedo honrar y reflexionar sobre estas injusticias durante el seder?
¿Cómo se ha manifestado en mi vida el trauma ancestral (el trauma que sufrieron mis ancestros)? ¿Cómo se manifiesta en mi cuerpo?
¿Cuáles son las formas en que puedo comenzar a sanar el sufrimiento que me han transmitido mis antepasados?
¿Cómo se manifiesta la alegría judía en mi vida?
¿Qué es lo que más aprecio de mi identidad multicultural?
בְּכָל-דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת-עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר
.בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה' לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרַיִם
(Pesachim 116b) Rabban Gamliel's Three Things
“In each and every generation, each person should feel personally redeemed from Egypt " (Pesachim 116b)
“For the sake of this, did the Lord do [this] for me in my going out of Egypt." (Exodus 13:8)
Each year as we sit down to our Passover seder, we retell the mythic narrative of our peoples’ liberation from slavery to freedom. We are obligated to transmit the story of our people from generation to generation, as well as to experience the journey from enslavement to freedom as if it had happened to each one of us.
History has been a powerful teacher. Over the course of history, we have been repeatedly persecuted by the Amalek of each generation, and conversely, persecution has been followed by periods of freedom and expansion. This optimistic reading of our historical pattern gives us hope in the difficult times that we will be liberated and have freedom. Our commitment as Jews is to remember and transmit our story, and to obligate ourselves to be part of the process of liberation for all humanity.
In addition to our reliving the physical exodus of our people, we commit to reflecting on our own internal chametz, for example, our addiction to social media, work, material objects, or Lashon Hara (gossip). Our understanding of the personal nature of the work of Pesach, comes from the words of the Haggadah, that each person is obligated to relive the exodus for themselves- atzmo-etzem. The word etzem is a word that refers to our spiritual selves, our divine spark, or the essence of a human being.
According to Me’or Eynayim, an 18th-century rabbinic Hassidic commentator, when our ancestors were slaves in Egypt, awareness itself went into exile. As our ancestors came through the Red Sea, they regained their awareness and agency.
For most of us, the past two years of COVID have been a time out of time, set in an increasingly fraught and unstable world. The rupture in our lives has been enormous. Often, times like these can give way to new ideas creativity, and a renewed look at ourselves and our priorities.
As we begin to emerge from our own Red Sea, may we be blessed with the gift of awareness to clarify what is deeply important to each of us.
-What new things have you learned about yourself over the recent past?
-What changes, if any, do you wish to make?
-What practices will assist you to make the changes you desire?
*Learn more about "What Matters: Caring Conversations About End of Life" at www.ShomerCollective.org/WhatMatters
Memorials/Bereavement at the Passover Seder
1. Using recipes that were made by or enjoyed by the person who died
2. Using ritual objects (kiddush cup, kippah, etc.) that were cherished/used by the one who died
3. Using a pillow of the one who died for reclining at the seder
4. Telling stories about the one who died — e.g., how they were at the previous year’s seder
5. Recalling comments/interpretations of the Pesach story/themes by the one who died
6. Associating certain lines/images from the Haggadah with the memory of the one who died
7. Incorporating written work by the one who died into the seder
8. Integrating songs, poetry, and prose that was important to the one who died into the seder
9. Using artwork by the one who died as a centerpiece at the seder
10. Building a memorial into the “Eliyah’s Cup/Opening the Door” portion of the seder — silent, spoken, and/or sung
11. Some people leave an empty chair at their seder table
12. Before Pesah begins, giving to a tzedakah/cause that is meaningful in memory of the one who died, perhaps related to Pesach themes
13. Similar to the preceding, underwriting the participation of a needy Jew in a communal seder in memory of the one who died
From: Coping with the Empty Chair at the Seder: A Personal Journal for Memory and Contemplation,
Prepared By Rabbi Stephanie Dickstein, LMSW, The Jewish Board
National Pet Day
Falling on the sixth day of Passover this year, National Pet Day (April 11, 2023) is a special occasion to celebrate and remember our beloved animal companions, past and present. Read this Blessing for Pets to give gratitude to the small creatures in your life!
Blessing for Pets
We give thanks for your animal sensibility
And for the joy you have brought us
Since becoming part of our lives
Whether you are the fruit of the cat tree
Or a beloved companion on long walks
Or yet another kind of creature entirely
Your presence is a blessing
Your every vocalization and need
A reminder of our interconnectedness
Our lives and animal natures coexisting in harmony
Art plays an important role in Judaism. Artisans are mentioned in the Torah in relation to making beautiful textiles and ritual objects of precious stones and metals for the Tabernacle and Temple. Today, intricate silver ritual items, such as Kiddush cups, Shabbat candlesticks, and hanukkiyot (Hanukkah menorahs), enhance the beauty of our Jewish celebrations, fulfilling the ideal of hiddur mitzvah (beautification of a commandment).
Music and dance are two other examples of hiddur mitzvah. After God split the Sea of Reeds in the biblical story of the Exodus from Egypt, Miriam, Moses’s sister, “. . . picked up a hand drum [tambourine], and all the women went out after her in dance with hand drums” (Exodus 15:20).
1. Create tambourines with your grandchild. Decorate two paper plates, a towel-paper tube, or a toilet-paper tube.
2. Staple the two paper plates together, leaving a small opening, or staple the tube at one end, leaving the other end open.
3. Fill with rice or beans.
4. Staple closed the opening and shake.
5. Sing or play a Jewish song as you welcome in Shabbat or any Jewish holiday, play your tambourine, and dance for joy!