This may take up to thirty seconds.
If we agree to serve one volunteer committee, but not two or three… דַּיֵּנוּ
If we work 45 hours in a week, but not 60… דַּיֵּנוּ
If we serve two courses for Shabbat dinner, but not three or four… דַּיֵּנוּ
If we buy a dessert, instead of making one from scratch… דַּיֵּנוּ
If we wash the floor every other Friday morning, instead of every Friday morning… דַּיֵּנוּ
If we clear away the clutter, but don’t dust the shelves… דַּיֵּנוּ
If we buy a gift certificate, instead of spending hours searching for the perfect gift… דַּיֵּנוּ
If we usually schlep to the less expensive supermarket, but not always… דַּיֵּנוּ
If we take on one of the big projects coming up at work, but not all of them… דַּיֵּנוּ
If we go to one of the events organized by our friends this week, but not all them… דַּיֵּנוּ
If we do what we can, and then go to bed at a reasonable hour… דַּיֵּנוּ
In the Passover story, Miriam the prophetess is a true community organizer, leading her people across the Red Sea in song and dance and helping them to feel the power of liberation! Miriam knows that their power lies in the full diversity of the community. Everyone, man or woman, can be a great leader. Another story is told about Miriam and her brother Aaron challenge Moses’ prophetic authority asking: “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” (Numbers, 12:2). Like women throughout history, Miriam bears the brunt of the penalty for her and Aaron’s actions. While Aaron is left unpunished, Miriam suffers leprosy and is sent to live outside of the camp for a week. Though G-d and Moses instruct the community to continue in the wilderness, they refuse and insist on waiting until Miriam returns. This story illustrates the power of fierce women in our communities, demonstrating that gender diversity is critical on our long path to liberation.
The example Miriam sets is reflected in the work that women organizers are doing all over the country, including those in Native American communities. Winona LaDuke is a fiery Anishanaabe Native rights and environmental activist who founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project in Minnesota and the international Indigenous Women’s Network. Winona's calls for action against destruction of sacred land have made tremendous impacts on both indigenous people and the world at large. She speaks to women’s experience and, like Miriam, maintains a feminist perspective in her work. She writes:
“We, collectively, find that we are often in the role of the prey, to a predator of society, whether for sexual discrimination, exploitation, sterilization, absence of control over our bodies, or being the subjects of repressive laws and legislation in which we have no voice. This occurs on an individual level, but equally, and more significantly on a societal level. It is also critical to point out at this time, that most matrilineal societies, societies in which governance and decision making are largely controlled by women, have been obliterated from the face of the Earth by colonialism, and subsequently industrialism. The only matrilineal societies which exist in the world are those of Indigenous nations. We are the remaining matrilineal societies, yet we also face obliteration.”
Like Miriam, Winona and the organizations she helped to form provide spaces for indigenous women to develop political consciousness and a powerful national voice. During Passover, we can all be moved by Miriam and Winona’s work and strive to be concious of creating inclusive communities as we cross from slavery to freedom.
The word Haggadah means the Telling. On many other festivals we are commanded to listen. We must hear the Megillah on Purim, we must hear the Shofar on Rosh Hashana. But on Pesach we are commanded to speak. We must speak of our past, we must tell our own stories, we must seek out our voice. This Seder Nashim is about giving voice to our experiences. Tonight we embrace our rich heritage as Jewish Women, create new rituals and establish safe and supportive space for one another.
Introduce yourself by sharing your name according to your maternal line.
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.
The Passover Symbols
We have now told the story of Passover… but wait! We’re not quite done. There are still some symbols on our seder plate we haven’t talked about yet. Rabban Gamliel would say that whoever didn’t explain the shank bone, matzah, and marror (or bitter herbs) hasn’t done Passover justice.
The shank bone represents the Pesach, the special lamb sacrifice made in the days of the Temple for the Passover holiday. It is called the pesach, from the Hebrew word meaning “to pass over,” because God passed over the houses of our ancestors in Egypt when visiting plagues upon our oppressors.
The matzah reminds us that when our ancestors were finally free to leave Egypt, there was no time to pack or prepare. Our ancestors grabbed whatever dough was made and set out on their journey, letting their dough bake into matzah as they fled.
The bitter herbs provide a visceral reminder of the bitterness of slavery, the life of hard labor our ancestors experienced in Egypt.
Even after one has encountered the collection of seemingly unconnected foods on the seder plate year after year, it’s fun to ask what it’s all about. Since each item is supposed to spur discussion, it makes sense that adding something new has been one way to introduce contemporary issues to a seder.
So how was it that the orange found its place on the seder plate as a Passover symbol of feminism and women’s rights?
The most familiar version of the story features Susannah Heschel, daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel and scholar in her own right, giving a speech about the ordination of women clergy. From the audience, a man declared, “A woman belongs on the bima like an orange belongs on the seder plate!” However, Heschel herself tells a different story.
During a visit to Oberlin College in the early 1980s, she read a feminist Haggadah that called for placing a piece of bread on the seder plate as a symbol of the need to include gays and lesbians in Jewish life. Heschel liked the idea of putting something new on the seder plate to represent suppressed voices, but she was uncomfortable with using chametz, which she felt would invalidate the very ritual it was meant to enhance. She chose instead to add an orange and to interpret it as a symbol of all marginalized populations.
A decade later, the ritual of Miriam’s Cup emerged as another way to honor women during the seder. Miriam’s Cup builds upon the message of the orange, transforming the seder into an empowering and inclusive experience.
Although Miriam, a prophet and the sister of Moses, is never mentioned in the traditional Haggadah text, she is one of the central figures in the Exodus story.
According to Jewish feminist writer Tamara Cohen, the practice of filling a goblet with water to symbolize Miriam’s inclusion in the seder originated at a Rosh Chodesh group in Boston in 1989. The idea resonated with many people and quickly spread.
Miriam has long been associated with water. The rabbis attribute to Miriam the well that traveled with the Israelites throughout their wandering in the desert. In the Book of Numbers, the well dries up immediately following Miriam’s death. Of course, water played a role in Miriam’s life from the first time we meet her, watching over the infant Moses on the Nile, through her triumphant crossing of the Red Sea.
There is no agreed-upon ritual for incorporating Miriam’s Cup into the seder, but there are three moments in the seder that work particularly well with Miriam’s story.
1) As Moses’s sister, Miriam protected him as an infant and made sure he was safely received by Pharaoh’s daughter. Some seders highlight this moment by invoking her name at the start of the Maggid section when we begin telling the Passover story.
2) Other seders, such as this one, incorporate Miriam’s cup when we sing songs of praise during the Maggid and later during the Hallel as a reminder that Miriam led the Israelites in song and dance during the Exodus.
3) Still others place Miriam’s Cup alongside the cup we put out for Elijah.
Just as there is no set time in the seder to use Miriam’s Cup, there is no set ritual or liturgy either. Some fill the cup with water at the start of the seder; others fill the cup during the seder. Some sing Debbie Friedman’s “Miriam’s Song”; others sing “Miriam Ha-Neviah.” As with all seder symbols, Miriam’s Cup is most effective when it inspires discussion.
What does Miriam mean to you? How do all of her roles, as sister, protector, prophet, leader, singer, and dancer, contribute to our understanding of the Exodus story? Who are the Miriams of today?
By Rabbi Robyn Frisch
If you, like me, are past the age of 40, you may remember years ago hearing the claim that Little Mikey of LIFE cereal fame died from the explosive effects of mixing Pop Rocks candy with soda pop. Or you may have heard that children’s television show host Mr. Rogers (Fred Rodgers) always wore long-sleeved shirts and sweaters on his show to conceal the tattoos on his arms he obtained while serving in the military. Or perhaps you’ve heard that alligators live under the New York City sewer system. But, in reality, none of these stories are true. They’re all “urban legends.” And I’m proud to say that I never believed any of them (well, except the one about Mikey and Pop Rocks—I did believe that one for awhile…).
But there’s another urban legend, one connected to the Passover seder, that I’ve believed for years. In fact, I’ve told this story many times at my own seders. It’s the story of the “orange on the seder plate.” And until this week, I always thought the story I told was true—after all, I’d heard it so many times, and read it in so many different places.
The story goes something like this: Professor Susannah Heschel was giving a lecture in Miami Beach, when a man stood up and yelled: “A woman belongs on a bimah like an orange belongs on a seder plate.” In order to show that women DO belong on the bimah—that women have the right to a place in Jewish ritual and in Jewish leadership—Heschel and others began to place oranges on their seder plates. (According to another version of the story, the man yelled: “A woman belongs on thebimah like a piece of bread belongs on the seder plate.” Wanting to make a point about women’s rightful place in Judaism, but not wanting to place bread, which is forbidden on Passover, on her seder plate, Heschel replaced “bread” with “an orange,” since the incident took place in Florida, “The Orange State.”)
I learned the story of “the orange on the seder plate” sometime in the late 1990s, when I was a rabbinical student. At the time I was in my early 30s, hosting my own seders for the first time. Like many of my colleagues, I strived to make my seders authentic, relevant and meaningful by balancing tradition with creativity and innovation. I embraced the traditional symbols of the seder (the four cups of wine, matzah, egg, parsley, etc.) and also newer symbols, such as Miriam’s Cup and the orange. For the past 15 years or so, when I’ve gone to the produce store to buy parsley, horseradish and apples and nuts for my charoset, I’ve made sure to purchase an orange for my seder plate as well. And at every seder I’ve hosted, I’ve shared the “story of the orange on the seder plate” and how it represents women’s equality in Judaism.
But recently I found out that the story I’ve been telling simply isn’t true. Here’s the TRUE STORY, in Professor Susannah Heschel’s own words, from an article that she wrote for The Jewish Daily Forward in 2013:
“At an early point in the seder… I asked each person to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit and eat the segment in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews and of widows, orphans, Jews who are adopted and all others who sometimes feel marginalized in the Jewish community.
“When we eat that orange segment, we spit out the seeds to repudiate homophobia and we recognize that in a whole orange, each segment sticks together. Oranges are sweet and juicy and remind us of the fruitfulness of gay and lesbian Jews and of the homosociality that has been such an important part of Jewish experience, whether of men in yeshivas or of women in the Ezrat Nashim.”
Heschel went on to write of the Miami Beach lecture urban legend:
“That incident never happened! Instead, my custom had fallen victim to a folktale process in which my original intention was subverted. My idea of the orange was attributed to a man, and my goal of affirming lesbians and gay men was erased.
“Moreover, the power of the custom was subverted: By now, women are on the bimah, so there is no great political courage in eating an orange, because women ought to be on the bimah.
“For years, I have known about women whose scientific discoveries were attributed to men, or who had to publish their work under a male pseudonym. That it happened to me makes me realize all the more how important it is to recognize how deep and strong patriarchy remains, and how important it is for us to celebrate the contributions of gay and lesbian Jews, and all those who need to be liberated from marginality to centrality. And Passover is the right moment to ensure freedom for all Jews.”
I’m glad to have finally learned the “true story” of “the orange on the seder plate.” And now that I know it, will I still put an orange on MY seder plate this Passover? I sure will! But, like Professor Heschel, I’ll invite each of the participants at my seder to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit that grows on trees and eat the segment in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews and of widows, orphans, Jews who are adopted, interfaith couples and families and all others who sometimes feel marginalized in the Jewish community.
After all, the Passover seder is very much a time for asking questions (for the importance of questions in the Passover seder—beyond the “Four Questions”—see my blog from last year about the seder). And if I’ve learned anything from discovering the truth about the urban legend of the “orange on the seder plate,” it’s that we need to constantly be questioning: even those things that we’re confident we already “know.”
For more on Passover and seders, visit Interfaith Family's Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families.
One of our people's greatest strengths is using our tradition as a wellspring to renew our heritage as we pass it down from generation to generation. As Jews we have a living relationship with our past. Jewish history, Jewish traditions, and Jewish memories are not placed in museums and libraries for scholars to research. They are part of our people's daily lives. When we study our sacred texts, retell our stories, celebrate our successes and mourn our losses, we seek to make deep personal connections to our people's heritage. When we succeed, we gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the richness and strength in Jewish life. Every generation needs to renew Judaism according to its vision and concerns. To teach Judaism to our children, we need to make it alive for ourselves. Each generation asks new questions and brings its own concerns and understandings to our sacred texts and cherished traditions. One small example of our tradition's ever flowing well of inspiration comes from a traditional reading of this week's Torah portion, Hukat. We read about the death of Moses' sister, the prophet Miriam (Numbers 20:1). Joined with the announcement of her passing is a note that our ancestors had run out of water to drink (Numbers 20:2). The association of these two events provided the foundation upon which the sages of the Talmud built a beautiful legend about the abundant well of fresh water that followed Miriam as she wandered with her people throughout the desert. So long as she lived, the well was a fountain of living water that sustained the people. This source of strength and sustenance, however, dried up upon her death (Rashi on Numbers 20:2; b. Ta'anit 9a; Song of Song Rabba 4:14, 27). This legend emphasizes the importance of Miriam in the forty years our people spent in the desert and shows her to be a full partner with her brothers, Moses and Aaron. Her courage and enthusiasm sustained our people. Her death was a great loss for our ancestors and her two brothers. The Torah underscores this point by telling us that almost immediately after her death, Moses and Aaron are almost overwhelmed by the challenge to provide water for our people. Recently, this story has taken on a new significance. Today, as women join men as never before as leaders of the Jewish people, we seek ways to acknowledge this new reality and bind it to the living tradition of our people. The legend of Miriam's Well gives us one such opportunity. Today, at many contemporary Passover Seders there is a new custom of placing a goblet of water on the table to represent Miriam's well. Its presence on the table provides an opportunity to talk about the significance of Miriam and the role women play in the Passover story and in the life of the Jewish people. It helps us to relive the story by reminding us that real people and real families experienced the Exodus. It reminds us of our people's abiding sense of God's protecting presence in the difficult weeks, months, and years after leaving Egypt. It teaches us about the indispensable, life-giving power of righteous leaders. We are living in a time of unbelievable change. Who could have predicted the tragedies and triumphs our people experienced in the past century? The science, politics, and economics of our world present new and unexpected challenges to Jews and to all people. As Jews we are also living in a period of extraordinary growth and creativity as we rise up and meet these challenges. We are blessed to possess a rich and deep sacred heritage that often, in surprising ways, helps us bind our present day concerns with the life giving waters of our faith and tradition.
Author: Rabbi Lewis Eron http://www.jewishrecon.org/resource/well-tradition-and-miriams-well
when I am assaulted or harassed, I am asked what I am wearing or if I have been drinking.
when I am belittled to only be as important as the size of
when I am degraded for having multiple partners but a boy
is celebrated for “getting around.”
that I can’t wear form tting clothing without it becoming
indicative of my character.
teaching our daughters to avoid being raped, instead of
teaching our sons not to rape.
watching my boyfriend laugh at sexually violent jokes.
when survivors and victims are told not to report rape
because they shouldn't "ruin their man's life".
being expected to be the "perfect Jewish girl" and not speak
unless spoken to.
"locker room talk" that's permitted and perpetuated by
when I am attacked because I "asked for it" with the
clothes I was wearing.
when men assume if I won't hook up with them I'm a "bitch"
Shedding light on our culture of permissiveness toward sexual violence, illuminating the truth of its damaging consequences, and bringing it out of the shadows, we kindle the candles to create light where, for many survivors of rape and sexual violence, there is only darkness. We hope to light a path to healing with our candles. We also consider these candles as a yahrzeit (memorial) to remember those who have lost their lives to sexual violence and rape.
Every person sitting at the table may light one candle while reciting in either Hebrew or English the following:
Together, we say:
May these candles, lit on the Festival of Freedom, bring light into our hearts and minds. May they renew our courage to act for justice and freedom here and now. May they illuminate the path to truth, justice and peace. And so we repeat the ancient blessing:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדלִיק נֵר שֶׁל יוֹם טוֹב
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam,
asher kiddishanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu lehadlik neir shel Yom Tov.
We praise God, spirit of everything, who has made us distinct through
Your directives and has directed us to kindle the holiday lights.
Traditionally each of the cups of wine are linked to one of the statements of redemption spoken by God in the Torah “I will bring you out”. “I will deliver you”. “I will redeem you”. "I will gather you to me.” (Exodus 6:6-7).
This cup of wine therefore corresponds to the first statement “I will bring you out of slavery” For women the first step to freedom was equality in the law. The struggle for this freedom began in the desert, when the daughters of Zelephachad demanded their right on inheritance. It continues today, as there are still countries in the world where women do not have the right to vote. This cup of wine is dedicated to all of those women, the daughters of Zelephachad, the Suffragettes and modern campaigners, who have fought for women’s equality in the law.
This chant is intended to focus our attention on each of the four cups of wine during the Passover seder. As you pour each cup, chant the following words from Psalm 23 – " Kosi R'vayah, " translated as "my cup runneth over" or "my cup is overflowing." The brimming cups and music create a beautiful seder ritual.
You can learn the three parts of this chant by listening to them separately and together on Ritualwell.org.
Kosi R'vayah is available on the Chanscendence CD by Rabbi Shefa Gold.
This clip originally appeared on Ritualwell.org.
(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).
The four cups of wine are traditionally linked to the four promises God made to the children of Israel:
As it is written: "I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt. I will deliver you from bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great judgements. I will take you to be my people and I will be your God" (Exodus 6: 6-7).
Tonight we dedicate the four cups of wine to important or inspirational women in our lives- individually or as a community- who have worked towards redemption and freedom in their own ways. Please take a minute to think about who you would like to dedicate the first cup to.
Traditional Masculine Blessing
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha'olam borei p'ri hagafen.
Traditional Feminine Blessing
B'rucha At Yah Eloheinu Ruach ha'olam boreit p'ri hagafen.
You are blessed, Our God, Spirit of the World, who creates the fruit of the vine.
The following alternative kiddush was written by Marcia Falk, a prominent Jewish feminist liturgist. Her blessings avoid the problem of God’s gender because they do not reference God as a person-like being. In addition, they locate the power of blessing with the people ("Let us bless" rather than with God’s inherent blessedness ("Blessed are you")
N’vareykh et Eyn Hahayim matzmihat p’ri hagefen.
Let us bless the Source of Life that ripens the fruit on the vine.
Some of this clip originally appeared on Ritualwell.org.
But the midwives did not follow orders. Instead of murdering the infants, they took special care of them and their mothers. When Pharaoh asked them to account for all the living children, they made up the excuse that Jewish women gave birth too fast to summon midwives in time.
The midwives' acts of civil disobedience were the first stirrings of resistance among the Jewish slaves. The actions of the midwives gave the people courage both to withstand their oppression and to envision how to overcome it. It became the forerunner of the later resistance. Thus Shifra and Pu'ah were not only midwives to the children they delivered, but also to the entire Jewish nation, in its deliverance from slavery.
From Oppression to Liberation:
For the Pursuit of Reproductive Justice in this Generation
The four cups of wine we drink this evening are symbols of our freedom and God's presence in our lives. But, as the seder ritual reminds us, freedom is an ongoing journey. True freedom can only be enjoyed when all our sisters, brothers and others are freed of the many burdens that would delay or deny their inherent dignity. As women, we still know the shackles of oppression all too well. In modern society, we still experience the exploitation of women and girls in our workplaces, medical facilities, and even governing bodies. By allowing this oppression to continue, we fail to recognize the holiness and moral agency present in all of God’s children.
Tonight, we retell the story of the Exodus and consider how it applies to our lives today. We are reminded that there is still bitterness in the world and iniquity in our homes and communities: politicians seeking to control women's reproductive destinies; perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence seeking to control women’s bodies; and societal barriers seeking, perhaps inadvertently, to limit a woman’s ability to recognize her full potential. These examples and others are today’s plagues; they remind us of the constraints Pharaoh placed on our Israelite ancestors.
At tonight’s seder, instead of feeling despair, we envision - and commit to achieving - a society in which every person exerts full autonomy over their own reproductive and sexual life. At tonight’s seder, we celebrate the values that lead us to work toward reproductive justice. This expanded social justice framework acknowledges the different systems of oppression that impact our lives and impede our ability to truly make our own decisions about our reproductive and sexual health. We renew our commitment to not only safeguard our legal rights to access the care we need but to go further, ensuring every person’s ability to meaningfully do so regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, income and other unique life circumstances. We pledge to leave the next generation a society in which reproductive freedom has truly been reached.
The readings in this resource packet seek to inspire our commitment to reproductive justice. They are designed to be read before you drink each of the four cups of wine.
Let us tonight honor those who are working tirelessly to bring us out of this metaphoric Egypt and pledge to renew our own fight toward achieving justice and freedom for all.
Coordinated by the following: Jewish Women International, National Council of Jewish Women, Religious Action Center
of Reform Judaism in association with Women of Reform Judaism, and Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
For more information on reproductive justice, please visit www.rac.org/reproductive-rights-and-womens-health.
For all Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism resources, please visit rac.org/Passover.
The washing of our hands suggests that we are open to question. One question that is always asked is about hope.
Rick Recht answers in his song:
This is the hope that holds us together, Hatikvah, the hope that will last forever, the hope is still real.
From the Diaspora, to the exodus, to the holocaust, to war, to independence, to more wars, to threats, bombing, and peace, Israelis never give up hope. We are strong people because we have hope. And the hope holds us together. That’s why the Israeli National Anthem is Hatikvah, because that means hope.
The beginning of the seder seems strange. We start with kiddush as we normally would when we begin any festive meal. Then we wash, but without a blessing, and break bread without eating it.
What’s going on here?
It seems that the beginning of the seder is kind of a false start. We act as if we are going to begin the meal but then we realize that we can’t – we can’t really eat this meal until we understand it, until we tell the story of the exodus from Egypt. So we interrupt our meal preparations with maggid (telling the story). Only once we have told the story do we make kiddush again, wash our hands again (this time with a blessing) and break bread and eat it! In order to savor this meal, in order to appreciate the sweet taste of Passover, we must first understand it.
Leader: Women in biblical times to modern day have been subject to harsh standards, subordination, and violence. Yet it is in the waters that Miriam and Batya nd empowerment, the ability to purify their minds of old pains and memories. Tonight, not only do we clean our hands, but we also cleanse our spirits, following the steps left by these two women. In facing the dark truth of dismissed oppressions, Urchatz is a chance to take a mental pause in order to refresh before delving into a reality of discomfort and tragedy.
We read together: Water flows.
Leader: It is the current of the Nile, carrying a young Moses from the hands of his sister Miriam to those of Batya, Pharaoh's daughter. The two face opposite directions—one the enslaved and the other the enslaver—yet they stand together, connected by this omnipresent stream.
Together: Water cleanses.
Leader: The wounds of labor and fear, expectation and hard- ship are washed away in the Nile. Miriam is no longer only a sister; Batya is no longer simply a daughter. They are women of action, transgressing the decrees of patriarchy.
Together: Water revives.
Leader: Immersed in the essential simplicity of clear water, we, too, emerge with strength and renewal. From our palms and through our ngertips ow the waters of ancient Egypt; we are reminded that a world of equality cannot yet be held. It will take the hands of many to sustain.
Together: One day, the sacred waters of our ancestors— powerful, brave, pulsing—will wash over the oppressions of the world.
Pass a pitcher and a bowl of water around the table, o ering to wash the hands of a guest next to you. Remember to ask for consent. In Aramaic, the sister language of Hebrew, “urchatz” translates to “trust.” Establishing trust through consent is an integral part of crea ng a stronger community.
Reader 1: Long before the struggle upward begins, there is tremor in the seed. Self-protection cracks, roots reach down and grab hold. The seed swells, and tender shoots push up toward light. This is karpas: spring awakening growth. A force so tough it can break stone.
Reader 2: Why do we dip karpas into salt water?
Reader 1: At the beginning of this season of rebirth and growth, we recall the tears of our ancestors in bondage.
Reader 2: And why should salt water be touched by karpas?
Reader 1: To remind us that tears stop. Even after pain. Spring comes.
Take a bit of greenery, dip it into the salt-water, and recite the following blessing:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei p’ri ha’adamah.
Blessed are You, Lord, our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the earth.
Breaking the matzah
There are three pieces of matzah stacked on the table. We now break the middle matzah into two pieces. The host should wrap up the larger of the pieces and, at some point between now and the end of dinner, hide it. This piece is called the afikomen, literally "dessert." After dinner, the guests will have to hunt for the afikomen.
Reader 1: Ha lachma anya—this is the bread of affliction. At the seder we begin as slaves. We eat matzah, the bread of affliction, which leaves us hungry and longing for redemption. It reminds us of a time when we couldn’t control what food was available to us, but ate what we could out of necessity. The matzah enables us to taste slavery— to imagine what it means to be denied our right to live free and healthy lives.
But, while we will soon enjoy a large meal and end the seder night as free people, millions of people around the world can not leave the affliction of hunger behind. Let us awaken to their cries and declare:
Kol dichfin yeitei v’yeichol—let all who are hungry, come and eat. As we sit at our seder and contemplate our people’s transition from slavery to freedom, let us hope for a time when all who are hungry will eat as free people. Let us pray:
Let all people gain autonomy over their sources of sustenance.
Let local farms flourish and local economies strengthen.
Let exploitation of natural resources cease so that the land may nourish its inhabitants.
Let communities bolster themselves against the destruction wrought by flood and drought.
Let our world leaders recognize food as a basic human right and implement policies and programs that put an end to world hunger.
Hashata avdei—this year we are still slaves. Leshanah haba’ah b’nei chorin—next year we will be free people.
This year, hunger and malnutrition are still the greatest risks to good health around the world. Next year, may the bread of affliction be simply a symbol, and may all people enjoy the bread of plenty, the bread of freedom.
- Emma Goldman
The second statement of redemption is “I will deliver you.” Equality in law means little if it is not matched in fact. We all have the right to equal pay but the wage gap between men and women is still more than 20%. We all have the right to vote but only 20% of Knesset members are women. The second cup of wine is dedicated to those women who battle in the courts, in the family and in society for equality in fact.
Drink the second cup of wine
On Passover, Jews are commanded to tell the story of the Exodus and to see ourselves as having lived through that story, so that we may better learn how to live our lives today. The stories we tell our children shape what they believe to be possible—which is why at Passover, we must tell the stories of the women who played a crucial role in the Exodus narrative.
The Book of Exodus, much like the Book of Genesis, opens in pervasive darkness. Genesis describes the earth as “unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep.”1 In Exodus, darkness attends the accession of a new Pharaoh who feared the Israelites and so enslaved them. God alone lights the way out of the darkness in Genesis. But in Exodus, God has many partners, first among them, five brave women.
There is Yocheved, Moses’ mother, and Shifra and Puah, the famous midwives. Each defies Pharaoh’s decree to kill the Israelite baby boys. And there is Miriam, Moses’ sister, about whom the following midrash is taught:
[When Miriam’s only brother was Aaron] she prophesied… “my mother is destined to bear a son who will save Israel.” When [Moses] was born the whole house… filled with light[.] [Miriam’s] father arose and kissed her on the head, saying, “My daughter, your prophecy has been fulfilled.” But when they threw [Moses] into the river her father tapped her on the head saying, “Daughter, where is your prophecy?” So it is written, “And [Miriam] stood afar off to know what would be[come of] the latter part of her prophecy.”2
Finally, there is Pharaoh’s daughter Batya, who defies her own father and plucks baby Moses out of the Nile. The Midrash reminds us that Batya knew exactly what she doing:
When Pharaoh’s daughter’s handmaidens saw that she intended to rescue Moses, they attempted to dissuade her, and persuade her to heed her father. They said to her: “Our mistress, it is the way of the world that when a king issues a decree, it is not heeded by the entire world, but his children and the members of his household do observe it, and you wish to transgress your father’s decree?”3
But transgress she did.
These women had a vision leading out of the darkness shrouding their world. They were women of action, prepared to defy authority to make their vision a reality bathed in the light of the day.
Retelling the heroic stories of Yocheved, Shifra, Puah, Miriam and Batya reminds our daughters that with vision and the courage to act, they can carry forward the tradition those intrepid women launched.
While there is much light in today’s world, there remains in our universe disheartening darkness, inhumanity spawned by ignorance and hate. We see horrific examples in the Middle East, parts of Africa, and the Ukraine. The Passover story recalls to all of us—women and men—that with vision and action we can join hands with others of like mind, kindling lights along paths leading out of the terrifying darkness.
1 Genesis 1:2 2 Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 14a 3 Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 12b
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Appointed by President William Jefferson Clinton in 1993, she is known as a strong voice for gender equality, the rights of workers, and separation between church and state.
Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt is a rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C.. She is co-creator of two nationally recognized community engagement projects—MakomDC and the Jewish Mindfulness Center of Washington.
“I marched in a snowstorm in Stanley, Idaho (pop. 63) with 29 other people comprising half the town. I carried a handmade sign that said “One Small Voice” because I’ve never stopped believing that one small voice plus millions of other small voices is exactly how we change the world. I’m making the updated recording of “One Small Voice” available to everyone because it will take the strength and persistence of many small voices to overcome the lies of the loudest voice with our message of truth, dignity, and decency.”
At all other סדרים, our minds can be full of stressful anticipation for the night different from all other nights, whether we are surrounded by our nearest and dearest, our friends, or complete strangers. Tonight, may we enjoy a calming and empowering evening surrounded by our "sisters".
At all other סדרים, we can be concerned about food- whether we have eaten too much or too little, whether people find what we've prepared tasty, how we're going to survive the sheer quantities of matzot and our overall appearance. Tonight, may we all be free of food and body consciousness, anxieties and insecurities.
At all other סדרים, we read of the heroic struggles and soul-searching of our forebears as they left Egypt. Tonight, we will consider our personal acts of heroism as we struggle to break free from the shackles which imprison our respective souls, and celebrate the many Heroines in our daily lives.
Traditionally, we ask why this night is different from all other nights. This variation on the Four Questions challenges us to think about why some things have changed so little:
1) Why is “JAP” still such a popular put-down?
2) When women make up the majority of Jewish professionals, why are most Jewish communal organizations still led by men?
3) When will people stop thinking it’s only important for girls – and not boys – to learn about Jewish women’s history?
4) Why on this holiday, with its theme of liberation, are most seders still led by men and served by women?
The Torah speaks of four Daughters: one possessing wisdom of the heart, one rebellious, one simple and pure, and one who cannot ask questions.
The daughter possessing wisdom of the heart what does she say? "Father, your decree is harsher than Pharoah's. The decree of the wicked Pharoah may or may not have been fulfilled, but you who are righteous, your decree surely is realized." The father heeded his daughter (Miriam). So we too follow in her steps with drums and dancing, spreading her prophecy amongst the nations
The rebellious daughter, what does she say? "Recognize" the ways of enslavement and the tyranny of man's rule over man. Although she rebels against authority it is said: She was more righteous than he, and we enjoy no freedom until we have left our unjust ways.
The simple and pure daughter, what does she say? "Wherever you go, so shall I go, and where you rest your head so there will I rest mine. Your people are mine, and your God my God" (Ruth,1:16). We shall indeed fortify her in her loyalty to those she loved, and it was said to her: "May God make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the House of Israel."
And the daughter who cannot ask– only her silent weeping is heard, as it is written, "and she wept for her father and mother." We will be her mouthpiece and she will be for us a judge. We will return her to her mother's house and to her who conceived her, and we will proclaim "liberty in the land for all its inhabitants."
Each of the Four Daughters expresses a unique path from bondage to freedom in a national and human sense. They learn from examining their parents' lives and from the struggle of their nation, while their parents themselves are exposed to new spiritual layers as a result of their daughter's education.
Wise of Heart: According to the Midrash, young Miriam persuaded her father Amram and the other enslaved men of Israel not to separate from their wives despite Pharoah's decree to destroy all male newborns. When her mother Yocheved gave birth to a boy, the two worked together to save the new son/brother. Miriam recognized the historical significance of this nascent struggle, as she did at the splitting of the Red Sea, and thus led her people to redemption ( Talmud Bavli, Sotah 12 ).
Rebellious: Tamar's complex relationship with her father-in-law, Judah, son of Jacob our forefather, expresses a rebellion whose result was critical to the continuation of the tribe of Judah and the Jewish people. With her deeds, Tamar barricaded herself against her loss of freedom as an imprisoned widow. She eventually achieves the yibum (levirate marriage) to which she is entitled, and becomes the "founding mother" of the Davidic dynasty, symbol of messianic redemption (Tamar, Genesis 38:26).
Simple and Pure: Ruth the Moabitess remained true to her mother-in-law Naomi, and her ingenious loyalty is absolute. This wonderful emotional closeness that Ruth so adamantly demonstrates rescues both of them from poverty and internal bondage (Ruth 4:11).
The One Who Cannot Ask: This last of the four daughters lacks sufficient freedom to taste even slightly the redemption and thus remains weeping in utter slavery. Although the 'beautiful captive' from war is allowed to grieve for her parents before she is taken (Deuteronomy 21:13), she is a reminder of the reality of silenced bondage, which continues to exist in our midst in various ways. The silent weeping that erupts from this dark reality is a call to action for the cause of freedom and liberty of every man and woman (Leviticus 25:10), born in the image of God, in order to live securely in their homes, among their people and loving family (Song of Songs 3:4).
Rabbi Einat Ramon, is the first Israeli-born woman to be ordained as a Rabbi.
This clip originally appeared on Ritualwell.org.
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)
As we tell the story, we think about it from all angles. Our tradition speaks of four different types of children who might react differently to the Passover Seder. It is our job to make our story accessible to all members of our community, so we think about how we might best reach each type of child. Since this Seder is focused on the theme of “rape culture”, we wanted to reimagine the traditional Four Children as real life people in our community, each responding to rape culture in different ways. As you read, consider the ways in which you identify with one, several, or all of these “children”:
The Wise Child/The Accomplice Asks: “What are the testimonies of people who are oppressed by rape culture? How can I listen openly and nonjudgmentally to them, and be witness to their voices? How am I personally implicated in the perpetuation of rape culture, and how can I use my privileges to help?”
The Wicked Child/The Bystander Asks: “Why did my friend get so upset at that rape joke she heard? Why can’t she lighten up?” The Bystander removes themselves from the problem and misses the point, misses the chance to step in, entirely. The Bystander doesn’t see themselves as a part of the larger, systemic problem.
The Simple Child/The Un-”Woke” Asks: “What is this ‘rape culture’ I keep hearing so much about?” with no actual intent to learn. Most likely, The Un-”Woke” feels personally threatened by the concept of rape culture, and puts their defenses up when confronted with it.
The Child Who Doesn’t Know How to Ask/The Nice Person: We all know these folks. Well-meaning community members who don’t even know enough about systematic gender and sex oppression to ask their own questions about it.
I have known fear and I have known comfort
And here, in this moment
My eyes are wide open
My heart is wide open
With each step, my heart pounds
And I can feel my lips stretching into a smile
The sounds of the sea are all around
And the sounds of children
You are here
Between me and this miracle
In my heart
In the winged ones above us
And in the spray of the sea that cools my face
This journey has been so long
I have been so tired
And I have been so afraid
But here, in this moment
Between the certainty of death and loss
And the wonder of an open way ahead that seems to go on forever
Between the sea and the sea
Here I am
And here You are
You are a gift
I can see with my feet on this muddy earth
With the tips of my fingers
Tracing wet lines through the walls of water that hold me in
Hold me up
Hold me close to You
You are here
Pulling me to safety
To Your side
One mud-soaked step at a time.
A close reading of the beginning of Exodus shows that a number of women were
involved in bringing about the redemption.
● Shifra & Puah, the midwives,(Jewish or Egyptian?) refused to fulfill Pharoah’s
command to kill the newborn Jewish boys. Their “excuse” - The Jewish women
give birth early & naturally, without needing midwives. They utilize Pharoah’s fear
of the Jews that reproduce so greatly as animals, to excuse themselves. They
“feared G-d” (his moral law) more than the feared the almighty ruler - Pharoah!
● The daughter of Levi (later introduced as Yocheved) married and conceived
even though Pharoah decreed death on all male newborns - bravely defied his
● Daughter of Levi hides her son for three months & when can’t hide him any
longer, she puts him in the “teva” in the Nile, hoping he will somehow be saved.
If asked where her babe is she would reply, I threw him in the Nile as per
● Babe’s sister watches over him in the Nile to try to protect him. Ultimately gets
him back to his Jewish mother to wetnurse him for Pharoah’s daughter.
● Pharoah’s daughter defies her father’s decree & adopts the Jewish abandoned
babe. Gives him to Jewish wetnurse for some years & then takes him back &
names him MOSES (in Egyptian = “son”). Raises him as her son in the Royal
Palace. Moses is reborn from the Nile to his second Mother, Pharoah’s daughter.
Raised in royalty - maybe necessary in order to be able to lead his people ought
of Egypt. Even though raised in Palace, apparently Pharoah’s daughter does not
hide his Jewish identity from him!
● Tzipora saves Moses’ live by circumcising their son on the way back to Egypt.
allowing Moses to get back to lead The Jews out of Egypt.
● Many Midrashim develop these points!
● Reuven Werber - Kfar Etzion
Our story starts in ancient times, with Abraham, the first person to have the idea that maybe all those little statues his contemporaries worshiped as gods were just statues. The idea of one God, invisible and all-powerful, inspired him to leave his family and begin a new people in Canaan, the land that would one day bear his grandson Jacob’s adopted name, Israel.
God had made a promise to Abraham that his family would become a great nation, but this promise came with a frightening vision of the troubles along the way: “Your descendants will dwell for a time in a land that is not their own, and they will be enslaved and afflicted for four hundred years; however, I will punish the nation that enslaved them, and afterwards they shall leave with great wealth."
Raise the glass of wine and say:
וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ וְלָֽנוּ.
V’hi she-amda l’avoteinu v’lanu.
This promise has sustained our ancestors and us.
For not only one enemy has risen against us to annihilate us, but in every generation there are those who rise against us. But God saves us from those who seek to harm us.
The glass of wine is put down.
In the years our ancestors lived in Egypt, our numbers grew, and soon the family of Jacob became the People of Israel. Pharaoh and the leaders of Egypt grew alarmed by this great nation growing within their borders, so they enslaved us. We were forced to perform hard labor, perhaps even building pyramids. The Egyptians feared that even as slaves, the Israelites might grow strong and rebel. So Pharaoh decreed that Israelite baby boys should be drowned, to prevent the Israelites from overthrowing those who had enslaved them.
The Passover story is most often associated with the leadership of Moses, but in fact the cycle of protest that culminated in the Exodus from Egypt began with the courageous acts of two women who disobeyed Pharaoh’s decree to murder all Hebrew male babies born in Egypt. These women, Shifra and Puah, practiced a bold and noteworthy profession—midwifery. It was their commitment to preserving human life and their skills as midwives that provided the safe and secret delivery of Hebrew baby boys. That the biblical text actually mentions Shifra and Puah by name suggests the ultimate importance of their role in the liberation of the Israelites.
God heard the cries of the Israelites. And God brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and outstretched arm, with great awe, miraculous signs and wonders. God brought us out not by angel or messenger, but through God’s own intervention.
Instead of looking at the ten plagues mentioned in the story fo Exodus, tonight we think about modern 'plagues' that afflict us, our communities, and our societies. As we mention these plagues, we spill a drop of wine onto our plates. May these plagues be resolved in our times.
The traditional Haggadah lists ten plagues that afflicted the Egyptians. We live in a very different world, but Passover is a good time to remember that, even after our liberation from slavery in Egypt, there are still many challenges for us to meet. Here are ten “modern plagues”:
Inequity - Access to affordable housing, quality healthcare, nutritious food, good schools, and higher education is far from equal. The disparity between rich and poor is growing, and opportunities for upward mobility are limited.
Entitlement - Too many people consider themselves entitled to material comfort, economic security, and other privileges of middle-class life without hard work.
Fear - Fear of “the other” produces and reinforces xenophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, antisemitism, homophobia, and transphobia.
Greed - Profits are a higher priority than the safety of workers or the health of the environment. The top one percent of the American population controls 42% of the country’s financial wealth, while corporations send jobs off-shore and American workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively is threatened.
Distraction - In this age of constant connectedness, we are easily distracted by an unending barrage of information, much of it meaningless, with no way to discern what is important.
Distortion of reality - The media constructs and society accepts unrealistic expectations, leading to eating disorders and an unhealthy obsession with appearance for both men and women.
Unawareness - It is easy to be unaware of the consequences our consumer choices have for the environment and for workers at home and abroad. Do we know where or how our clothes are made? Where or how our food is produced? The working conditions? The impact on the environment?
Discrimination - While we celebrate our liberation from bondage in Egypt, too many people still suffer from discrimination. For example, blacks in the United States are imprisoned at more than five times the rate of whites, and Hispanics are locked up at nearly double the white rate. Women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. At 61 cents to the dollar, the disparity is even more shocking in Jewish communal organization.
Silence - Every year, 4.8 million cases of domestic violence against American women are reported. We do not talk about things that are disturbing, such as rape, sex trafficking, child abuse, domestic violence, and elder abuse, even though they happen every day in our own communities.
Feeling overwhelmed and disempowered - When faced with these modern “plagues,” how often do we doubt or question our own ability to make a difference? How often do we feel paralyzed because we do not know what to do to bring about change?
By Avigayil Halpern
Blood: Young girls tuck tampons quickly into backpacks, secret them in purses, hide them in Ugg boots. It’s not blue dye that the river is running with, and periods are more trouble than the pamphlet in that goody bag from middle-school health class would leave one to believe. “It’s beautiful to be female,” we’re told, but nobody accounts for cramps and cramps and cramps and bloodied sheets and cramps. We are under no obligation to love our bodies, to delight in the “privilege” of femaleness, not when we are compelled to hide it.
Frogs: They hear our voices blurred into the high-pitched hum of a summer night, ribbet ribbet,like, ribbet. We are alive, vibrant, excited, communicating. We speak fast, sentences overlapping, as the men across the Shabbat table snicker at our pace and our tone. If they listened, they would hear us speak of politics. If they listened to our chirping, they would hear us planning our way into every crevice of their world. We will fill it with our voices.
Lice: Squirming, fidgeting, wanting to crawl out of our skin. A teacher detains us in the hall to talk about our thighs – it’s supposed to be about the skirt, but the fabric that’s there isn’t the problem. The heels we wore to that interview hurt our nervous, trembling feet as we talk about our favorite books, our biggest challenges. We feel it, all over, all the time, itching in our souls as we adjust the tight-but-not-too-tight skirt.
Wild Animals: We clutch keys in our hand on the walk home, never feeling safe alone at night. Alone with a trusted male friend, the thought still occurs; after all, so many rapes are committed by those who are close. Who says we’ll be the one to avoid it? The numbers mean we’re never safe, always wondering, fearing we’ll be pounced on.
Cattle Pestilence: Herded into classrooms, desks in straight rows, filling out bubble after bubble with that pencil. We lose our humanity in ID numbers and testing tricks, cattle in high schools on Sunday morning. Do we need an extra calculator? How long is this section? Am I about to ruin my future? Phone rings, scores will be canceled. Don’t open the book until we’re told. d c a b a b b b b b b. Crap, that can’t be right.
Boils: Flawed, flawed skin. Primer, concealer, foundation, powder, contour, highlight. Remove with alcohol and oil. Exfoliate. Face wash. Moisturizer. How much does this cost? How much of this is toxic? We work to unlearn the idealization of perfect faces on glossy pages, and still cringe at the dark circles, the and that one zit near our nose. We fill landfills and souls with the garbage from our “beauty” routines, but we’re never satisfied, always something more we need to fix our “tainted” skin.
Hail: Fire and ice. Smart or likable. Hot or serious. Sexual or respectable. Mature or excited. Intellectual or fun. Strong or elegant. Choose.
Locusts: They descend on us, pick us bare, for the future of the Jewish people. We don’t align with denominations. We don’t look good in demographic surveys. We don’t care about continuity. We care about meaning, and that scares them. We do not exist to feed the future. We are not here to raise Jewish children. We are here to be Jews in our own right. Consume us, envelop us into your structure. There’ll be nothing left.
Darkness: We girls are still not welcomed into the halls of study, into the mazes of letters. We fight for the Talmud, and look blindly at the reading notation over and under the Torah text. We are left in the dark about how to sing those words, in the dark about the culture of Jews interpreting and creating our texts for thousands of years. We bring our flashlights, weaving our way through forms frozen, stagnated by the dark they themselves have created.
Death of the Firstborn: This is not our plague. We are not the firstborn. We are secondary, taken for granted, always in the ensemble but never given a starring role. We have been here for centuries, mothers and sisters and wives of the firstborn. We are the bat mitzvah girls given jewelry where our male friends got books. We are the teenagers given strange looks when we walk into the beit midrash and slide a volume of Talmud from the shelf. We are the stranger, higher voices singing the words of the Torah from the bima. We are reading it. It will be ours.
One of the most dramatic moments of the Passover Seder comes with the recitation of the 10 plagues that, the Bible says, God brought on the Egyptians to persuade Pharaoh to free the Israelites from slavery. In this Seder, we have reclaimed this ritual as a method of understanding rape culture. We purposely omitted actual rape from this list because we want to explore the many facets of our culture of permissiveness toward gender and sex-based violence that ultimately contribute to people’s decisions to commit rape. As we recite each plague, we spill a drop of wine in recognition that these conversations can feel uncomfortable to us, especially those of us with gender, race, and class privilege.
1. Toxic masculinity: Cultural norms that stereotype men as unemotional, dominant, and aggressive, especial- ly in a sexual context, both collectively and as individuals. The expectation that “real men” are stoic, that “boys will be boys”, and that showing emotion is incompatible with strength. Relatedly, the idea that a Real Man cannot be a victim of abuse, or that talking about abuse is shameful. Toxic masculinity discourages men from becoming involved in the lives of their children, encourages household inequality, which is harmful to everyone involved, and perpetuates the idea of “emasculation”.
2. Toxic femininity: Women’s feelings of competition over issues rooted in gender inequalities, to the point where they’re willing to put other women down to get ahead, socially or professionally. Examples include vying for a man’s attention or turning against their lifelong friends in favor of gaining acceptance or perceived power from men.
3. Rape jokes/trivialization of sexual violence: Rape jokes aren’t funny. They make rapists and sexual predators feel validated. When rapists and sexual predators hear people making light of rape, they feel reinforced in their decisions to rape and harass others. Many rapists don’t think of themselves as rapists because they don’t FEEL that they have done anything wrong by having sex with someone who is unconscious, or continuing to make passes at people who communicate that they don’t want the attention. Trivializing sexual violence perpetuates and nor- malizes it. This plague also includes jokes about rape and sexual violence in prisons, and “locker room talk”.
4. The “Madonna/Whore” complex: The idea that men and women codify women into two camps: saintly “Madonnas” and debased “whores”. The good girls – the Madonnas – are virtuous, innocent, pure (typically blond and
light skinned) and virginal, almost to the point of asexuality. The bad girls – the whores – are sexually voracious, typically
brunette and/or women of color, and aggressive (traits that traditionally de ne male sexuality). This is based in historical fear of female sexuality. Men are frequently portrayed as being absolutely at the mercy of their own sexual desires, leaving women as the guardians of morality. Slut-shaming – bashing or insulting a woman for being a sexual being – and excusing men from sexually assaulting women as just “boys being boys” springs from this dichotomy, and results in school dress codes that prohibit young women from wearing mini skirts, for example, rather than punishing young men for being sexually predatory. The Whore is meant to be punished for acting “like a man”, the Madonna is to be preserved and worshiped for “acting like a lady”, though her personhood is disregarded. Either way, she loses respect.
5. Victim/survivor-blaming: One reason people blame a victim is to distance themselves from an unpleasant occurrence and thereby con rm their own invulnerability to the risk. By labeling or accusing the victim, others see the victim as di erent from themselves. Victim-blaming attitudes marginalize the victim/survivor and make it harder to come forward and report abuse. Victim-blaming attitudes also reinforce what the abuser has been saying all along: that it is the victim’s fault this is happening. It is NOT the victim’s fault or responsibility to x the situation; it is the abuser’s choice. By engaging in victim-blaming attitudes, society allows the abuser to perpe- trate relationship abuse or sexual assault while avoiding accountability for their actions.
6. Failure of the criminal justice system: According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than any other criminal. Out of 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free. In addition, only 310 rapes out of 1,000 will be reported to the police for fear of: not be- ing taken seriously by the police, mistreatment or further harassment by police, “messing up” the abuser’s life, and that the abuser will eventually return and harm or kill the survivor.
7. The Male Gaze/sexist media: This theory was coined by lm maker Laura Mulvey who argues that lm audiences are forced to “view” characters from the perspective of heterosexual males, and that women exist as passive objects of male desire. As a result, women learn to identify personally with the male gaze, and then view other women though the male gaze as well. As a result, women not only learn to objectify other women, but they learn to uphold the male gaze in their own, real lives, and objectify themselves to the satisfaction of men.
8. Heteronormativity/cis-normativity/white-normativity: Rhetoric about sexism is often heteronormative and cis-normative. Further, the experiences of people of color are frequently ignored and/or misunderstood by white people in conversations about rape culture and sexual violence. Queer people, gender non-conforming people, and people of color experience rape culture and violence di erently than straight, cis, white people, and this is often overlooked by healthcare professionals, policy-makers, social workers, and other people with power to help.
9. “Benevolent” Sexism: Because benevolently sexist attitudes appear positive (holding the door open for a woman, paying for a woman’s meal, etc.), people often struggle to identify these beliefs as a form of gender-based prejudice. Furthermore, benevolent sexism may be seen by both men and women as reinforcing of the status quo, which some individuals may nd comforting and familiar. While benevolent sexism may not appear to be harmful to women on the surface, these beliefs threaten gender equity and restrict women's personal, professional, political, and social opportunities. Both benevolent sexism AND hostile sexism re ect views of women as underdeveloped adults, providing justi cation for men to be authoritative and monitor, protect, and make decisions on women's behalf. Acts of chivalry AREN’T the problem. There is nothing inherently wrong with a man opening a door for you. What IS problematic is when neither party is able or willing to locate themselves in the histories and current realities of sexism. The result is that both parties end up perpetuating the attitudes and expectations associated with gendered expectations and social norms, and this feeds patriarchal oppression.
10. Catcalling/street harassment/telling women to “smile more”: Street harassment (and the general expectation that women and girls should look pretty, be happy, and smile for men’s enjoyment) reinforces the idea that women exist as sexual objects and for men’s pleasure. It is another way for men to exert power over women.
Download the full haggadah here: https://jufwebfiles.org/pdf/teens/RTI-Haggadah-Final.pdf
Filling Miriam's Cup follows the second cup of wine, before washing the hands. Raise the empty goblet and say:
Miriam's cup is filled with water, rather than wine. I invite women of all generations at our Seder table to fill Miriam's cup with water from their own glasses.
Pass Miriam's cup around the table(s).
Explain the significance of filling Miriam's cup with water:
A Midrash teaches us that a miraculous well accompanied the Hebrews throughout their journey in the desert, given by God because of the merit of Miriam, the prophetess. Miriam’s optimism and faith also was a spiritual oasis, giving the Hebrews the confidence to overcome the hardships of the Exodus.
Like Miriam, Jewish women in all generations have been essential for the continuity of our people. As keepers of traditions in the home, women passed down songs and stories, rituals and recipes, from mother to daughter, from generation to generation. Let us each fill the cup of Miriam with water from our own glasses, so that our daughters may continue to draw from the strength and wisdom of our heritage.
When Miriam's cup is filled, raise the goblet and say:
Yehi ratzon milfanecha, adonai eloheinu, velohei avoteinu v'imoteinu, borei ha'olam: shetishm'reinu ut'kaymeinu bamidbar chayeinu im mayim chayim. V'titen lanu et hachizzuk v'et hachomchah l'daat she'tzmichat geulateinu nimtza baderekh chayim lo rak b'sof haderekh.
"You abound in blessings, God, creator of the universe, Who sustains us with living water. May we, like the children of Israel leaving Egypt, be guarded and nurtured and kept alive in the wilderness, and may You give us wisdom to understand that the journey itself holds the promise of redemption." (from Rabbi Susan Shnur)
Next, tell the story of a Jewish woman you admire.
Begin by saying:
Each Passover, we dedicate Miriam's cup to a Jewish woman who has made important contributions in achieving equality and freedom for others. This year, we honor. . .
Biographies of Jewish women used for Passover Seder’s may be found at: http://www.miriamscup.com/BiographyFirst.htm
Dancing in honor of the prophetess Miriam can follow the rituals for the prophet Elijah after the meal.
Lift Miriam's cup and say:
Miriam's life is a contrast to the life of Elijah. Elijah was a hermit, who spent part of his life alone in the desert. He was a visionary and prophet, often very critical of the Jewish people, and focused on the world to come. On the other hand, Miriam lived among her people in the desert, constantly encouraging them throughout their long journey. Therefore, Elijah's cup is a symbol of future messianic redemption, while Miriam's cup is a symbol of hope and renewal in the present life. We must achieve balance in our own lives, not only preparing our souls for redemption, but rejuvenating our souls in the present. Thus, we need both Elijah's cup and Miriam's cup at our Seder table.
Sing and dance with tambourines. First hold up a tambourine and say (from Exodus 15:20-21):
"And Miriam the prophetess, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her, with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam sang unto them, Sing ye to God, for God is highly exalted; The horse and his rider hath God thrown into the sea." As Miriam once led the women of Israel in song and dance to praise God for the miracle of splitting the Red Sea, so we now rejoice and celebrate the freedom of the Jewish people today.
Rachtza is the ritual where we wash our hands, before we eat the matza. The way we wash our hands is the same way that we wash our hands on Shabbat and other holidays with a blessing. First, we lift up the cup and then we wash our hands on both sides in and out and top and bottom. As we wash our hands we make a blessing. (One should not talk unnecessarily until after eating the matza.) We make a blessing over the matza. There are several blessings following Rachtza. The first blessing is "Hamotzi lechem min haaretz", in which we acknowledge with gratitude that God allows bread to come from the earth. The second blessing is the matza blessing. Some have the custom to first lift up three matzas, on which we make the first blessing. After we make the first blessing, we put down the lower matza and make the second blessing, and then we lean to the left and eat the matza.
Dipping the bitter herb in sweet charoset | maror |מָרוֹר
We recognize that even though we are so grateful for our journeys toward liberation, and that we experience so much joy through the process of freeing ourselves, there are also many parts of the journey that are difficult and unpleasant.
We acknowledge the mixture of pleasant and unpleasant experiences by mixing bitter and sweet flavors as we eat the maror with charoset.
ברוּךְ אַתָּה יְיַָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל אֲכִילַת מרוֹר:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al achilat maror.
Everyone takes a piece of raw horse-radish.
Question: Why do we eat this Bitterness?
“So the Tight Place made the God-wrestlers subservient with crushing-labor; they embittered their lives with hard servitude in clay and in bricks and with all kinds of servitude in the field, all their serfdom in which they made them subservient with crushing-labor. (Exodus 1: 13-14.)
Invite the phrases that invoke flooded cities, ruined mountains, parched fields, etc.
Give a chunk of blood-red beet to everyone. Question: Why do we eat this blood-red beet?
“To remember the sacrifices, deaths, and woundings of those who have struggled for justice.” Especially now, we remember the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968.
I have been to the mountaintop. … I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! — — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968
Invite other names of those who have been killed in their work for justice or killed by global scorching, like those who died in Superstorm Sandy.
Invite a free-form blessing of memory.
Everyone eats a chunk of the beet.
During enslavement in Egypt, one of the ways the Children of Israel expressed their spiritual freedom was by conceiving their future. Literally. Their hope was that the next generation would serve God and not Pharoah.
Some among us, however, are not free to conceive their future. Their hopes and dreams are enslaved by fertility challenges. Infertility can feel like a form of bondage: bodies that feel broken or unable to perform as we wish, decisions that seem impossible at times to navigate, and circumstances that seem out of our control.
On Passover we eat charoset to symbolize the clay our ancestors used to hold together the bricks they were making. The charoset also represents the sweetness of their redemption to serve God. By adding apples to our charoset, we invoke these symbols as well as the connection to fertility. We connect our past, present and future with the Song of Songs, the apple trees, intimacy, conception, birth and redemption.
Meditation for making and eating charoset with apples for those experiencing fertility challenges:
God of our ancestors, our souls are afflicted.
While we may be free in most ways, our dreams of fertility seem out of reach.
With the sweetness of these apples, comes the bitter taste of disappointment and loss.
Under the apple tree – shade us with your blessings.
Under the apple tree – may we find comfort with each other.
Under the apple tree – help us conceive a hopeful future.
Creator and Redeemer of all, let this charoset strengthen our souls.
May the sweetness of its apples linger with us.
Grant us clarity and hope along the way
Korech: Mixing the Bitter and the Sweet
One of my favorite moments of the seder comes just before dinner is served. It is called Korech. It is also known as the Hillel sandwich. It is the moment when we eat maror (the bitter herbs) and the charoset (the sweet apple and nut mixture) on a piece of matzah. What a strange custom to eat something so bitter and something so sweet all in one bite. I can taste it now, just thinking about it, and the anticipation is almost too much to bear. I dread it, and I long for it all at the same time. Why do we do such a thing? We do it to tell our story.
The Jewish people tells our story through our observance of Jewish holidays throughout the year. The holidays of Passover, Chanukah and Purim remind us just how close the Jewish people has come to utter destruction and how we now celebrate our strength and our survival with great joy, remembering God’s help and our persistence, and our own determination to survive.
We also tell the story throughout our lifetime of Jewish rituals. The breaking of a glass at a Jewish wedding reminds us that even in times of life’s greatest joys we remember the sadness of the destruction of the Temple. When we build a home, some Jews leave a part unfinished to remember that even when building something new, we sense the times of tragedy in the Jewish people. And on Passover we mix the sweet charoset with the bitter maror, mixing bitter and sweet of slavery and freedom all in one bite.
Throughout each year and throughout our lifetimes, we challenge ourselves to remember that even in times of strength, it is better to sense our vulnerability, rather than bask in our success. We all have memories of times in which bitter and sweet were mixed in our lives, all in the same bite. Judaism says, sometimes life is like that. We can celebrate and mourn all at the same time. And somehow, everything will be ok. What is your korech moment?
Our final cup of wine is for the statement ‘And He gathered us to Him’ Today we gather together as women, seeking support, sustenance and inspiration for one another. Women have gathered together throughout the ages to be with one another in good times and in bad. The final cup is dedicated to women who give of themselves to other women and create a sisterhood.
Drink the Fourth cup of wine
Freedom. It isn’t once, to walk outunder the Milky Way, feeling the riversof light, the fields of dark—freedom is daily, prose-bound, routineremembering. Putting together, inch by inchthe starry worlds. From all the lost collections.
"For Memory," A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far
Miriam, daughter of Yocheved
Miriam is a ballsy backbeat,
a clash of tambourine
and quick thinking, the hero
who comes too early in the story
and who only speaks to Gd off-camera.
She’s a mouthy bitch,
that Miriam, leader of the girl gang;
when they dance, the seas shake.
Mothers fall to their knees.
While Moses is off performing magic tricks
and bargaining, Miriam shouts
a litany of curses in the vague direction of heaven,
Maybe I’m Coming For All Their Gods
Miriam brought the blood.
Miriam, a hailstorm.
Miriam closed her eyes
and blinded half a country.
Miriam walks behind Moses
with a switchblade in her palm,
letting it clang against her bangles,
sounding the alarm.
From Dane Kuttler's Unlikely Victories: a Handbook for the Good Fight, 2017
"Still I Rise” ― Maya Angelou
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.
A song by Girls in Trouble about Miriam, but later in her life, from the book of Numbers Chapter 12, when she's exiled from the group for a while.