by cynthia greenberg
leaving is the easy part
not where to run, how to get there
children pulling at your hems
so many bags to carry
which way in the dark will you wander
what star use as your guide
stepping out into the uncertain sands
it is more than the worry of food, shelter, water, food
what will become of us
this is what holds you back
leaving is the simplest part
to turn, in panic, anger, disdain, passion
rent of all trappings, belonging, owing-ness
us running, leaping, all gaiety at bonds released
the haze, intoxication, din
will we recognize suffering
notice disequillibrium bedding down among us
as we beat freedom drums
will we turn to the sounds of still-lacking
leaving is the lonliest part
determinedly setting out through unmapped waters
grasping ourselves, the air, what comes next full in our hands
we are wild joyfully moving as the dream
our mothers, fathers, cousins dreamed for us
even in our haste
bring all you have borne with you
leaving it, you will find no peace
what you make of liberation
that is the trick
can you, unshackled, set someone else free?
We’re so glad you can join us. The word “haggadah” means “telling”, and refers to the story of the Exodus that we read at Passover. As you may soon notice, there is a bit more in here than the traditional Passover story. There are stories from some of our friends about what Passover means to them. There is a glossary and a resource list, and lots of commentary. We aimed high and have pulled out quite a bit of hair; fought back the urge to give up, eat Nutella and watch Will & Grace; and learned a lot in the process.
We are both white, Ashkenazi middle-class folks and long-time activists/organizers. We are both queer, Micah is a tranny/alien type. Neither of us grew up in religiously observant households. Most of what we know about Jewish practice, we have learned as adults. We are both familiar with the particular frustration and embarrassment that can arise from not knowing about your own culture, not knowing how or what to ask. And for those of us who are also marginalized because of class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc., Jewish knowledge can be especially hard to come by. We have tried to create a source of information that would be welcoming to people of different backgrounds and knowledge and experience levels.
We see Jewishness as many things – a spiritual practice, and a collection of many deeply connected cultures and ethnicities. We hope that someday there will be many spiritually-resonant, politically progressive mutli-cultural, multi-ethnic haggadot. We realize we are far from that point and that this is still a very Ashkenazi-centric document. We hope this is a step in the right direction, and will nudge the door a little further open, for all the beautiful work to come.
Today, as the U.S. has begun/intensified yet another war on poor folks of color overseas and at home, we are all feeling the need for some cultural, spiritual and personal healing. And as the U.S.-backed Israeli war on Palestine continues, many of us American Jews continue to struggle with how to resist the horror of what is done in our name, while also holding dear our Jewish identities. We struggle with how to heal from the centuries of violence our families have carried, in order to be better allies to others and ourselves. As the U.S. Jewish establishment swings further to the right, allying with Christian fundamentalists and warmongers, we refuse to give up our vision of a liberatory Judaism. We refuse to give up the right to engage with, transform and reclaim our traditions, and to create the loving and inclusive cultures we know they can be. And we refuse to do this alone.
This process of cultural transformation is itself an ancient Jewish tradition. “More than 3500 version of the Haggadah have been published since the 13th century, when the first one appeared in book form.” We have drawn from many haggadot in the compilation of this text. These sources were inspiring and gorgeous, and we offer our deepest thanks to everyone whose words we have included. Many haggadot we referenced were themselves xeroxed compilations from other works. We have tried to give credit as best we could, and offer our sincere apologies to anyone whose name is not listed.
We wish you the best of Seders. Talk, question, learn, argue, sing. Engage with what we have written and compiled. Reflect on your deepest spiritual beliefs or simply enjoy the food. This is a celebration of freedom, liberation, and a remembrance of slavery and oppression. We live in a time in which all of this feels very close to the surface, and yet out of reach. May we all live next year in a world of justice and peace. And may we all work together to build that world. Kayn Yihee Ratzon/ Inshallah...
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.
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.
by Deirdre Silverman
For me, the recent meaning of Passover in my life has been a reclaiming of the seder ceremony away from the patriarchal tradition. My children may remember the seders of their early childhood, conducted by their grandfather entirely in Hebrew, incomprehensible to most in attendance, unvarying from year to year, except for how long it took until the children were sent away from the table for giggling. Before that, there were the Vietnam-era seders when we got into fights with relatives about the relationship (or lack thereof) between the oppressions of ancient people and those of our own era.
Our goal now is to create seders that reflect our awareness of the past and present, that change to meet our needs and concerns but remain connected to the positive aspects of our tradition, that welcome newcomers and offer comfort to the regulars, and that are stimulating, comprehensible and of interest to people of varying ages, religions and backgrounds. Always a process; always a challenge.
by Julie Iny
Some Jews prepare for Pesach by getting rid of all their hametz. Last year, I inadvertently created a ritual for a near reenactment of the 40 days and 40 nights our people spent wandering in the desert when I decided to learn how to make halaik, the date syrup that is the critical and divine ingredient of Iraqi charoset.
In years past, my Aunt Rachel, keeper of many Iraqi and Indian-Iraqi culinary and cultural traditions, would, because she loves me, send me a bottle of homemade halaik carefully wrapped for its journey from Montreal to Oakland via Los Angeles. My friends who have tasted Iraqi charoset, made of halaik and chopped nuts, have dubbed this intensely flavorful and hard- to-come-by syrup “liquid gold.” They are typically so enthralled by its sweet taste, that they fail to notice how its appearance serves to remind us of the bricks and mortar of slavery in Egypt.
In these times when many traditional cultures are being lost, I hope there will be people who work to preserve the rich diversity of languages, traditions and practices of non-European Jews. So, with this in mind, I called my Aunt Rachel who happily faxed me “Aunty Rachel and Granny’s Halaik” recipe, which included strategies for avoiding date-syrup scheming squirrels and ants.
I bought 5 pounds of dates from Costco. Then I poured boiling water onto the dates and mashed them in the pot, leaving them uncovered overnight. The next step felt like about 36 of the 40 days and nights. I had to use porous fabric and squeeze date pulp to extract juice – one scoop at a time. I ultimately safety-pinned a contraption together to keep the dates from squeezing out on all sides. Day after day, my roommates would wake up and go to bed with me at the kitchen table squeezing dates.
Finally, I was able to boil the date water, which I then had to pass through a cloth bag yet again. I brought the now pulp-free date juice to a near boil and let it simmer for over an hour as I kept it company. Once cool, I covered it and put it in the sun to thicken - indoors so as to avoid the date- syrup scheming squirrels and ants my aunt warned me about.
As I undertook this journey in pursuit of liquid gold, I had several revelations. Our people probably didn’t work 45-hour weeks and then prepare for holidays. Halaik is good on matza brei. Our people probably organized the process so that a few folks made Halaik for the whole neighborhood. Halaik is good over labne on matzah. Our people would probably be grateful to know that in Oakland, California, this Iraqi Jewish woman didn’t go buy a jar of factory-made date syrup. Oh, and did I mention, Halaik is good.
Julie Iny is an Indian-Iraqi/Russian American Jewish activist in Oakland, California.
I dreaded passover growing up. It seemed boring and oppressive and... dreadful with the emphasis on DREAD. I never really named it, but felt somewhere in my hungry gut that this wasn't a great place to be...my grandparents’ overheated undersized apartment in Queens, with these flat books in our hands, these hollow songs, this jelly on my fish.
A couple of years ago I was at a workshop called L'dor V'dor (generation to generation) and I thought about Pesach from my grandparents’ perspective for the first time.
They both came to the US from Vienna in the late 30's, in what would have been their university years. They both lost many family members in the Holocaust; my grandma lost both of her parents in concentration camps.
I got a picture in my head of my grandpa Joe, a 25-year-old newlywed in a new country, New York City (well, it was Jersey actually), getting settled in what would be his lifelong career as a garment cutter - this shy, hopeful, sad young man, this new husband and new dad and recent immigrant and non-english speaker (the guy still sounds like he hasn't been off the boat for long). This guy leading the seder cause nobody else made it and he and my grandma were basically orphaned. Grandma Ruth, leaving Vienna at 17 in a rush, no time to take the recipes she was too young to have really learned, in their ample and loving home where she, the youngest child, hoped to be a doctor and spent her time studying and playing with friends.
Cut to New York. Long gone the lush days of Vienna, or the simple comforts of home and family and the Haggadah they knew, recipes from many generations, the Seder plate and the cousins, and maybe Bubbe cooking and Zadie leading. Here they are, doing their own Seder in their apartment with their two little boys who would grow up to be absolute New Yorkers who don't know any German and, strangely enough, don't identify with Judaism, don't cherish and nourish traditions. These two sons who dread the seder, go only out of a sense of duty and, I think, knowing how dreadful it feels, are too pained to imagine my grandparents going through the motions alone.
Once I imagined the pain or the numbness they must have had around the seder, I was able to wrestle it back. Now I cherish the chance to celebrate with people that I love, to make food, to study the story and seek for application in my life and our world. I cherish the chance to honor Ruth and Joe and their amazing parents and struggles and sacrifices, and consider it my joyous duty to acknowledge, feel and someday move beyond, the sadness that encompassed them.
Horseradish is hard to find in the hinterlands outside Gallup NM. On this dry bit of Earth, next to what's left of Navajo/Hopi/Zuni lands, Pesach was clearly going to be a new experience. I had taken the year off from Brandeis to join the Global Walk for a Livable World 1990, figuring the truest education would be to "get up and walk the land" (Gen. 13:17), and to "serve and defend it" (Gen. 2:15). We'd started in L.A. two and a half months earlier, and would arrive in New York six months later, "walking our talk" of sustainability.
There were nearly sixty of us crossing the AZ/NM border, when suddenly Passover was upon us. We decided to hold two sedarim -- the first as an all-group program, and the second as a Jewish space. We typed up a "freedom seder" on the office bus that accompanied us; worked with that week's cooks on Pesach-friendly foods; took the outreach van into Gallup to copy the haggadah and scout out the basics (no horseradish, but chiles did the trick); picked up specially-delivered matzah from back east. Amid sand and sagebrush, in an interfaith group devoted to protecting Creation, the story of the Exodus took on new meaning:
"This is the bread of affliction...let all who are hungry come and eat" -- our walk had taken us through some of the poorest urban and rural areas in the country already; we knew that social and environmental sustainability were intertwined.
"This year we are slaves; next year may we be free" -- living out of a backpack, and getting almost everywhere on foot, upper-middle-class folk like me quickly realize how enslaved we are to the external trappings that make up our daily lives. We also realize that this is how most people in most lands and through most of history live.
"Blood; frogs; lice..." -- the longest part of our desert sedarim was recounting the plagues, noting the environmental relevance of the original ten, and coming up with our own lists. We offered ten plagues of sexism and homophobia, ten plagues of economic injustice, ten plagues of human rights abuses. Over our abuse of Earth, ten simply could not suffice.
"On all other nights, every other vegetable; on this night, bitter herbs" -- the group's favorite reading was Reb Zalman's kavannah over the maror: "We are the Egypt, and we are the Pharaohs whose hearts have been hardened and who refuse to let our Mother the Earth heal. We must shout a "Dayenu" to that, and begin to act.... As we are observant of the laws of Peach, so we must become observant about what is helpful to Earth; and like chametz on Pesach, we must avoid what destroys her."
Lessons learned: Tradition gives us not just symbols but also roots, sustaining us in our struggles for justice in the modern world. Seders are at least as good for bridging across cultures and religions, as they are for bonding within our own communities. To understand the Exodus, walk. And near a desert or not, to understand and relive Pesach as the Torah tells us to (Ex. 12:14ff), celebrate it outdoors.
Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, www.jrf.org/adatsmd
by Mark Silverman
My early years immersed me in a Judaism of male dominance in life and at the seder table, inevitably enticing me to gulp my glasses of real wine as a way of dulling the scene, blurring the edges, until the final songs sent me off to bed in a not unpleasant stupor. Dayenu!
Later, still a child but more aware, I saw the family kowtow to my father, a Yeshiva boy who went secular except for a few occasions each year, such as presiding over a purely Hebrew escape into the pages of his high school Haggadah/yearbook, carefully preserved along with the class photos of boys (only boys) just off the boat.
Still later, a bar mitzvah boy/man, I felt a certain ownership of the brew that for two nights each year brought together a family always on the verge of breaking up, if not for the shepherdess role my mother played for her orphaned brothers and their families.
When I brought home my new mate during the Vietnam era, the seder became a kind of wrestling match, with occasional call-to-order/cut-the- crap wine glass tapping from my still resolute father, as we worked the generational fault line until the last of the desserts were stuffed in.
As a grownup, the seders began with me mimicking my father, lightly but true. Only after a few years did we manage to slowly begin the process of purging the sexism, homophobia, unthinking support of Israel, all the other oppressions and isms, till finally, like athletes at the finish line, the deity reflex itself came into question only to emerge (for now) as a kind of pantheistic, humanistic, ever loving, merging, surging, pulsing, sometimes splurging, boisterous song-filled celebration of springtime and our resolve to buck all odds in Bush's sodden empire to create a world free of war, injustice, inequality, and poverty. And if not, at least a sense of humor about our barely civilized escapades in life.
Perhaps Passover is, when all is said and done, a kind of wine baptism that transcends our modernity and transports us back to a past we must acknowledge in some meaningful way, and forward beyond the present into a better world we must give birth to - even if once again our destiny floats among the bulrushes of the Nile.
[Yiddish for: In Struggle]
by Margot Meitner
Passover is my favorite chag (holiday). It’s the one in which I have always taken the opportunity to make a STATEMENT: Sometimes a political statement about my personal life; other times a personal statement about my political life. There was the time I plopped an orange on the Seder plate (representing the role of women in Judaism), or the time I nervously placed a crust of bread there (representing Queers in Judaism). There was the time I led the Seder in lieu of my father and my uncle (my budding feminism); the time I forced my family to be filmed on Passover (the budding documentary filmmaker); and the time I kept asking questions about my family’s experience in the Shoah (Nazi Holocaust).
Who can forget the interracial and interfaith seders, the union seder, and the sweatshop liberation seder? And then there was the time I contaminated my local Bay Area vegan seder with my contribution of gefilte fish (my sassy New Yorker intolerance for West Coast new ageism, which I have since succumbed to). The story of Exodus that we recount at Passover has evolved into a spiritual model that inspires my statement- making (aka, my progressive political work).
The Exodus story of liberation depicts the centrality of the Divine concern for the oppressed. Moving away from a source of oppression seems to be the immediate goal. But the beautiful thing about the Exodus story is that we wander through the desert never to quite reach Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel)—our destination. This forces us to focus more on the journey and the struggle. I have come to accept that the world will never be the one I hope for in my lifetime. But heartbreaking as it sometimes is to know that I will never reach my destination, it is the value that Exodus places on the journey and the struggle that sustains my political work. It is my own Eretz Yisrael—my vision of love, peace, and justice that guides me and enables me, each Passover, to continue to make a STATEMENT.
by Dan Berger
Though my family would never admit it, one of my first lessons in oppression and resistance came at Seders. Sitting around the table with my grandmother, who survived Auschwitz; my mother, who was raised by two survivors; and my father, who teaches Holocaust studies -- Passover had a very political character to it for me. Resistance was portrayed as a natural and necessary outgrowth of brutal oppression. We always talked about the Holocaust and what it meant for us. As I grew up and became aware of white supremacy, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression, I joined the resistance we talked about at Seders. I didn't realize it at the time -- and neither did my parents, who opposed my activism -- but resistance was and is the perfect way to honor Judaism, or at least the liberatory elements in it. Resistance is what I learned at Seders and what I saw everytime I looked at my grandmother's visible scars of her experience. It's funny that my parents and grandmother were so opposed to my radicalism -- they had laid the foundations in me to start to resist. The radical lessons I learned at Seders and Shabbat dinners were threatening to my family, in part because I made connections between Jewish resistance to oppression and the resistance of others. At least implicitly, I challenged them to also Make those connections -- and as my politics led to an interest in animal rights, they were upset that my diet ruined time-honored Passover traditions of dipping eggs in saltwater or eating meat at the main meal. They saw my eating habits as a rejection of Judaism and family tradition.
I saw it as a celebration of those traditions.
Seven years after I first became active, I’m still trying to determine fully what it means to be a Jewish radical in today's world. I've been inspired by other examples of Jewish radicalism that I’ve found – in Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, in the white anti-racist allies of the 1960s and 70s movements, of the courageous people in the International Solidarity Movement. At the same time, my parents have become increasingly conservative, particularly in terms of support for Israel's occupation policies. It doesn't help that my mom is Israeli. Growing up, I learned that Israel was "ours" because of the terrible oppression Jews have faced. Meeting other Jewish radicals against colonization I see that things aren't quite that simple. As I try to navigate the difficult territory we find ourselves in -- as Jews, as radicals, as Jewish radicals -- I take comfort in remembering what I learned from Passover: people have a right and responsibility to resist and be free.
- Joy Levitt (age 16)
Questions are not only welcome during the course of the evening but are vital to tonight’s journey. Our obligation at this seder involves traveling from slavery to freedom, prodding ourselves from apathy to action, encouraging the transformation of silence into speech, and providing a space where all different levels of belief and tradition can co-exist safely. Because leaving Mitzrayim--the narrow places, the places that oppress us—is a personal as well as a communal passage, your participation and thoughts are welcome and encouraged.
We remember that questioning itself is a sign of freedom. The simplest question can have many answers, sometimes complex or contradictory ones, just as life itself is fraught with complexity and contradictions. To see everything as good or bad, matzah or maror, Jewish or Muslim, Jewish or “Gentile”, is to be enslaved to simplicity. Sometimes, a question has no answer. Certainly, we must listen to the question, before answering.