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Baruch Atah Adonai, eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu lirdof tzedek
Brucha Yah Shechinah, eloheinu Malkat ha-olam, asher kid’shatnu b’mitzvotayha vitzivatnu lirdof tzedek
Blessed is the Source, who shows us paths to holiness, and commands us to pursue justice.
Calligraphy by: Ruben Shimonov
by Stosh Cotler
I had danced for D before- a leather butch who came into my club with her old school, high femme wife and their entourage. That particular night, the Saturday before Passover, I sat with their crew after my table dance for D, and was shocked when D’s lover started talking about Seder arrangements. Immediately, I outed myself as a Jew, which caused a huge burst of excitement at the table- imagine the odds, not only of randomly running into other Jews in a goyim-dominated city like Portland, but of meeting freaky Jews at a sex club. It was beautiful. I was invited to their Seder, and I accepted.
A few days later I wasn’t so sure about my decision. A Seder, after so many years of no Seders and few Jewish celebrations, what was I thinking? And with total strangers? I called my dad. “ Dad, there was a bunch of leather dykes who came into my club last weekend and invited me to their Seder. What should I do!?” And his response “ Of course you have to go! How could you not go? Go already!”
Wavering about my decision until the very last moment, I arrived at D’s house feeling nervous and little sorry I had taken his advice. I approached the door and saw the mezuzah, along side the rainbow flags and pink triangle stickers. I walked in and was greeted by the requisite cache of dogs, and then when I looked up I was surrounded by a surreal combination of 40’s –something, primarily white, butch-femme couples with a handful of dazzling leather daddy’s and Lavender Lesbians thrown in the mix.
I was introduced to everyone and took my seat with the others. We began the evening reading from the hand-made haggadah prepared for the seder, written specifically because so many of these people had been invisibilized, marginalized, traumatized or otherwise neglected by their mainstream Jewish upbringing. As we experienced the meal together, I think I was in shock- it had never occurred to me that Judaism could be contemporary, that my childhood religion and culture could have any relevance in my adult life, or that I could possibly bring my whole self to the table- without having to make excuses or justifications for who I am. It had never occurred to me that being Jewish was a revolutionary spiritual and political path to personal and community liberation.
I cried during the seder itself (you know, those tears that just well up in your eyes and you try to wipe them away before anyone else notices), and then I cried and cried for four days straight. I remember sitting on my bed, talking with my best friend, and not having the words to describe my confusion and grief and anger and desire after that Seder. I was so sad that I had missed out on so much of my Jewish upbringing, resentful that so many Jews are forced to assimilate into a watered down culture, fiercely bitter that so many Jews get pushed out of our own Jewish spaces because of intolerance within “our” community, and mostly just confused about how I was going to integrate this huge experience into my life. I truly felt like I had found my “home” in those short hours at the seder, and after being gone so long I felt scared and lost.
When something so deep happens, there is no going back. That Seder marked my return to Judaism and the beginning of my conscious and proud identity as a Jew. And for that reason, I think about Passover as my own personal Jewish anniversary as well as the time when we sit together with our loved ones and recount the story of liberation- our personal liberation, our people’s liberation, ALL people’s liberation.
May this haggadah be a reminder to us all that we are beautiful creatures who have a rightful place within our own tradition, and may we bring the radical spirit and vision of this holiday into our daily lives, minute by minute, as we work for love and justice for all people.
(1) Kiddush, sanctifying the holiday (2) Maggid, the storytelling (3) Birkat HaMazon, completing the Pesach meal; and (4) Hallel, completing the festival Psalms.
The Talmud connects the Four Cups to God's Four Promises to Israel: "Tell the children of Israel: I am Adonai! I will take them out... I will rescue them… I will redeem them… and I will marry them taking them as my people and I will be their God" (Exodus 6:6-7, Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 10:1).
However, two 16th C. mystic rabbis identify the Four Cups with the Four Matriarchs of Israel. The Maharal of Prague (famous for the legend of Golem) and Rav Isaiah Horowitz of Tsfat explain:
(1) The Cup of Kiddush stands for Sarah who was the mother of a community of converts, believers by choice.
(2) The Cup of Maggid is for Rebecca who knew how to mother both Esav and Jacob, two opposed natures.
(3) The Cup of the Blessing after Eating represents Rachel whose son Joseph provided the whole family of Jacob with bread in a time of great famine.
(4) The Cup of Hallel (Praise) is for Leah who came to realize that the pursuit of the impossible, Jacob's love, must give way to appreciation of what one has. When her fourth child was born, Judah, she praised God: " This time I will thank God " (Genesis 29:35).
It’s been a crazy week. The world with all its worries and bothers is still clamoring for your attention. The first step is to forget all that. Leave it behind. Enter into a timeless space, where you, your great-grandparents and Moses all coincide.
The beginning of all journeys is separation. You’ve got to leave somewhere to go somewhere else. It is also the first step towards freedom: You ignore the voice of Pharaoh inside that mocks you, saying, “Who are you to begin such a journey?” You just get up and walk out.
This is the first meaning of the word, “Kadesh” -- to transcend the mundane world. Then comes the second meaning: Once you’ve set yourself free from your material worries, you can return and sanctify them. That is when true spiritual freedom begins, when you introduce a higher purpose into all those things you do.
Kiddush (the blessing over wine) | kadeish | קַדֵּשׁ
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 cup and drink.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who creates the fruit of the vine.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who chose us from all peoples and languages, and sanctified us with commandments, and lovingly gave to us special times for happiness, holidays and this time of celebrating the Holiday of Matzah, the time of liberation, reading our sacred stories, and remembering the Exodus from Egypt. For you chose us and sanctified us among all peoples. And you have given us joyful holidays. We praise God, who sanctifies the people of Israel and the holidays.
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 God, Ruler of Everything, who has kept us alive, raised us up, and brought us to this happy moment.
Drink the first glass of wine!
The Four Cups of Wine:
Traditionally each cup is linked to a promise made by God in these verses:
So say to the children of Israel: I am Adonai, and I will take you out of the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments; and I will take you to Me as a people, and I will be to you a God; and you will know that I am Adonai your God, who brought you out of the burdens of the Egyptians.(Exodus 6 :6-7)
לָכֵן אֱמֹר לִבְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲנִי יְהוָה, וְהוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלֹת מִצְרַיִם, וְהִצַּלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מֵעֲבֹדָתָם; וְגָאַלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בִּזְרוֹעַ נְטוּיָה, וּבִשְׁפָטִים גְּדֹלִים וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם לִי לְעָם, וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים; וִידַעְתֶּם, כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, הַמּוֹצִיא אֶתְכֶם, מִתַּחַת סִבְלוֹת מִצְרָיִם.
These verses contain four phrases describing liberation:
v'hotzeti, וְהוֹצֵאתִי I will take you out
v'hetsalti, וְהִצַּלְתִּי, I will deliver you
v'ga'alti, וְגָאַלְתִּי , I will redeem you
v'lakakhti, וְלָקַחְתִּי, I will take you to me
FDR's Four Freedoms
The four cups can also be associated with the Four Freedoms first articulated by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 6, 1941, which were an inspiration for were Universal Declaration of Human Rights and were explicitly incorporated into its preamble.
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in their own way--everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want--which, translated into universal terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants--everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear--which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
(President Franklin Roosevelt, adaptation and commentary by A. Mendelsohn)
Around our tables sit four daughters.
The Wise daughter understands that not everything is as it appears.
She is the one who speaks up, confident that her opinion counts. She is the one who can take the tradition and ritual that is placed before her, turn it over and over, and find personal meaning in it. She is the one who can find the secrets in the empty spaces between the letters of the Torah.
She is the one who claims a place for herself even if the men do not make room for her.
Some call her wise and accepting. We call her creative and assertive. We welcome creativity and assertiveness to sit with us at our tables and inspire us to act.
The Wicked daughter is the one who dares to challenge the simplistic answers she has been given.
She is the one who asks too many questions. She is the one not content to remain in her prescribed place. She is the one who breaks the mold. She is the one who challenges the status quo.
Some call her wicked and rebellious. We call her daring and courageous. We welcome rebellion to sit with us at our tables and make us uneasy.
The Simple daughter is the one who accepts what she is given without asking for more.
She is the one who trusts easily and believes what she is told. She is the one who prefers waiting and watching over seeking and acting. She is the one who believes that the redemption from Egypt was the final act of freedom. She is the one who follows in the footsteps of others.
Some call her simple and naive. We call her the one whose eyes are yet to be opened. We welcome the contented one to sit with us at our tables and appreciate what will is still to come.
Daughter Who Does Not Know How to Ask
Last is the daughter who does not know how to ask.
She is one who obeys and does not question. She is the one who has accepted men's definitions of the world. She is the one who has not found her own voice. She is the one who is content to be invisible.
Some call her subservient and oppressed. We call her our sister. We welcome the silent one to sit with us at our tables and experience a community that welcomes the voices of women.
(Used with permission of the Temple Emunah Women's Seder Haggadah Design Committee)
In every generation, we imagine as if we ourselves are living out the Exodus by gathering at Seder tables to retell the ancient story of our struggle for freedom. The Haggadah describes four children who each ask questions about the Exodus — and the answers we give them reveal different ways of relating to our liberation story.
Right now in America, we’re living in dangerous and unacceptable times. It’s precisely in times like these when we discover who we are as a people, as a society, as a nation. In this moment, it’s up to each of us to decide what we’re willing to act for and how we want future generations to remember us. The four children teach us that there are many ways that individuals understand their relationship to their own historical moment. At your Seder, consider each of the following responses as potential reactions to the current political environment. How will you respond? What is acceptable in unacceptable times?
We don’t get to choose the historical moment we live in, but we do get to choose how we respond.
How will you respond?
Interpretation of the first committee's design for the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States in 1776, which was never used. This was Benjamin Franklin's design, originally suggested for the obverse, but the committee chose Pierre Eugene du Simitiere's design for that side. This interpretation was made in 1856 by Benson J. Lossing. Franklin's design was: Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity. Motto, "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God." Thomas Jefferson, a member of the committee, liked the motto enough to later use it on his personal seal.
Scanned from The Eagle and the Shield by Patterson and Dougall, page 21 Originally printed in The New Harper's Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 74, July 1856, page 180, article Great Seal of the United States by Benson J. Lossing
Bring only your determination to serve
and your willingness to be free.
Don’t wait for the bread to rise.
Take nourishment for the journey,
but eat standing, be ready
to move at a moment’s notice.
Do not hesitate to leave
your old ways behind—
fear, silence, submission.
Only surrender to the need
of the time— to love
justice and walk humbly
with your God.
Do not take time to explain to the neighbors.
Tell only a few trusted friends and family members.
Then begin quickly,
before you have time to sink back
into the old slavery.
You will learn to eat new food
and find refuge in new places.
I will give you dreams in the desert
to guide you safely home to that place
you have not yet seen.
The stories you tell one another around your fires
in the dark will make you strong and wise.
Those who fight you will teach you.
Those who fear you will strengthen you.
Those who follow you may forget you.
Only be faithful. This alone matters.
Your flesh will be torn
as you make a path
with your bodies
through sharp tangles.
Sing songs as you go,
and hold close together.
You may at times grow
confused and lose your way.
Continue to call each other
by the names I’ve given you,
to help remember who you are.
You will get where you are going
by remembering who you are.
Remembering the ten plagues that God brought upon the Egyptians when Pharaoh refused to free the Israelites, we have the opportunity now to recognize that the world is not yet free of adversity and struggle. This is especially true for refugees and asylum seekers. After you pour out a drop of wine for each of the ten plagues that Egypt suffered, we invite you to then pour out drops of wine for ten modern plagues facing refugee communities worldwide and in the United States. After you have finished reciting the plagues, choose a few of the expanded descriptions to read aloud.
Most refugees initially flee home because of violence that may include sexual and gender-based violence, abduction, or torture. The violence grows as the conflicts escalate. Unfortunately, many refugees become victims of violence once again in their countries of first asylum. A 2013 study found that close to 80% of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) living in Kampala, Uganda had experienced sexual and gender-based violence either in the DRC or in Uganda.
Forced to flee their home due to violence and persecution, refugees may make the dangerous journey to safety on foot, by boat, in the back of crowded vans, or riding on the top of train cars. Over the last several years, the United States has seen record numbers of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America. Many of these children have survived unimaginably arduous journeys, surviving abduction, abuse, and rape. Erminia was just 15 years old when she came to the United States from El Salvador in 2013. After her shoes fell apart while she walked through the Texas desert, she spent three days and two nights walking in only her socks. “There were so many thorns,” she recalls, “and I had to walk without shoes. The entire desert.”15
LACK OF ACCESS TO EDUCATION
The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees affirms that the right to education applies to refugees. However, research shows that refugee children face far greater language barriers and experience more discrimination in school settings than the rest of the population.16 Muna, age 17 in 2016, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan, who dropped out of school, said, “We can’t get educated at the cost of our self-respect.”17
Just as a 1939 poll from the American Institute of Public Opinion found that more than 60% of Americans opposed bringing Jewish refugees to the United States in the wake of World War II, today we still see heightened xenophobia against refugees. This fear can manifest through workplace discrimination, bias attacks against Muslim refugees, anti-refugee legislation such as the American SAFE Act of 2015 (H.R. 4038) which passed the House but was thankfully defeated in the Senate, and the various Executive Orders issued in 2017 and 2018 to limit refugees’ ability to come to the United States.
Scallions Aren’t Just For Eating: There is a Persian custom of hitting each other with scallions during Dayenu. The scallions represent the whips of our oppressors. Although this may seem a little morbid, young and old alike have a wonderful time violating social norms and slamming each other with green onions. - Rachel Kobrin, My JewishLearning.com
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.
We thank a higher power, shaper and maker, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Drink the second glass of wine!
you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.
no one would leave home unless home chased you, fire under feet, hot blood in your belly.
it's not something you ever thought about doing, and so when you did - you carried the anthem under your breath, waiting until the airport toilet to tear up the passport and swallow, each mouthful of paper making it clear that you would not be going back. you have to understand, no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.
who would choose to spend days and nights in the stomach of a truck unless the miles travelled meant something more than journey.
and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side with go home blacks, refugees dirty immigrants, asylum seekers sucking our country dry of milk, dark, with their hands out smell strange, savage - look what they've done to their own countries, what will they do to ours?
for now, forget about pride your survival is more important. i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark home is the barrel of the gun and no one would leave home unless home chased you to the shore unless home tells you to leave what you could not behind, even if it was human. no one leaves home until home is a damp voice in your ear saying leave, run now, i don't know what i've become.
won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay, my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
Freedom. It isn’t once, to walk out
under the Milky Way, feeling the rivers
of light, the fields of dark—
freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine
remembering. Putting together, inch by inch
the starry worlds. From all the lost collections.