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Different Strokes…

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Glancing around the room, I was aware that the room was filled with people enjoying themselves. And I was not one of them. Even sandwiched between two other Seder-attendees, arms intertwined and swaying to a Debbie Friedman song, I could not have felt more isolated. More alone.

Welcome to my first and only feminist Seder experience.

In just a few short days, we will engage in the ultimate bibliodramatic exercise – the Passover Seder. Martin Buber wrote “We Jews are a community based on memory. The spiritual life of the Jews is part and parcel of their memory.” No where else on our liturgical calendar is this truer than the traditional Passover dinner which is essentially a reenactment of our journey from slavery to freedom. We gather not to commemorate a one-time event but to relive it as an annual rite-of-passage. As we read, “in every generation, it is one’s duty to regard himself as though he personally had gone out from Egypt.”

Did you read that? “Himself?” “He?” Wait a minute. What about me? I’m neither “him” nor “he.”

And that has never bothered me.

In a traditional Haggadah, the focus of the story is on God. God the Redeemer. God who heard our plight. Who liberated us. Who led us to the land promised to our ancestors. Strikingly absent is Moses. With careful deliberation, the Rabbis made a special point to place God at the center of the story lest Moses take on some type of larger-than-life stature. In other words, he’s not there! His name is not mentioned even one time. What about the other male figures in the Haggadah text? Well, there are the four sons as well as a number of our Sages. Yet not once during my youth or adolescence did I sense that my story was not reflected in the wine-stained pages. The saga of emancipation was one that transcended gender-issues. ALL Jews were victims of the Pharaoh.

It was not until I was in rabbinic school that I was made to feel as if “real women” see misogyny lurking behind every corner, hidden in the very sacred texts that had always pulled me closer to the Divine. “If you don’t realize how much our Tradition has historically kept women down, then you are in denial,” one well-known female rabbi admonished me.

At that feminist Seder, Miriam, the midwives, Moses’ mother, and Pharaoh’s daughter were prominently featured – ironically surpassing Moses’ importance in a traditional Haggadah – as well as God being addressed in the feminine – essentially rendering the deity a Goddess. This was not my story. This was not my history. How ironic that the only Seder experience where I felt “other” was a feminist one.

The awesome potential of liberal Judaism is that it ought to include all voices. The harsh reality, however, is that it too often drowns out the less-popular ones. A Seder that excludes the men’s voices is no different from a traditional Seder that is accused of drowning out the women’s.

So, on my Seder table you will find no Miriam’s Cup. No orange. No symbols whose express intent is to distinguish between my redemptive experience and that of my husband, son, father, brother.

As we retell our story this year, may its message of hope and freedom be heard by all. And may we strive to create an environment open to all the voices in our community.


What’s your Torah? Let’s see what the Ima has to day today.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tuesday, 15 April 2008 7:58 pm

    this is such an interesting post. on one side of me, i hear you and feel the same way about many of the “women’s haggadot” that i have read….on the other hand….

    i have to tell you that i loved my first women’s seder (back in college) and really value the experience that it brings to my congregation. but when i started to create the one for my own synagogue, (it was requested of me by a group of women) i was concerned by the strident “feminist” tone of much of the material that i found. i really tried to put together a seder that is *inclusive* (while still being exclusive, i suppose, because we don’t invite the guys) of different ideas…a celebration of women’s contributions to judaism, rather than a separation of the experience. (each year, i say to the group “i don’t dislike men, in fact, they are some of my favorite people. but this is a chance for us to celebrate women and who we are…”)

    i do enjoy putting the orange on our seder plate, but i have amended the explanation over the years, preferring to see it as a symbol of the power of innovation in our ritual and an opportunity to acknowledge the marginalization in jewish life of many different groups of people…in addition, i love the explanation that the orange represents the “juicy vitality” of judaism and it adds a little something new and different to the seder.

    okay, that was a long comment. on another note, i recovered all my pantry shelves tonight. uf!

  2. meira permalink
    Wednesday, 16 April 2008 9:37 am

    great post. : )

    i love the miriam’s cup, though. because this is, to me, also a spring holiday and the themes of renewal and hope we can find in the water . . .

    and b/c i love debbie friedman’s songs about miriam . . . : )

    and because i hope someday my little elisheva, not so little any longer, will ask, hey mom, what was elisheva doing while her brother tiptoed into the sea and her brother-in-law led everyone out of egypt? because i want her to imagine all of us together at the sea, together at sinai . . . not just the women . . . and not just the men. . . .

    (and if there’s an orange on my table, it will be for nibbling during the reading of the haggadah . . . . )

    ps—t-minus less than a week and i’m ahead of schedule: i’m already panicking!

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