Passover begins the evening of April 19, and although I’m somewhat casual in my observance, I love that the holiday, which commemorates Jewish people’s journey out of slavery in Egypt, has become a time for reflection on freedom and social justice. This year, I’ve been thinking about how we LGBTQ parents might use the traditional “Four Questions” of Passover to guide our modern-day journeys.
During the Passover Seder, a ritual meal, we use a book called a Haggadah to retell and symbolically relive the story. Some of the passages come from traditional texts and liturgy, but much of the Haggadah is open to creative input. Because of the theme of freedom from oppression, many Haggadot (plural) aim at exploring various areas of social justice and include readings from modern civil-rights leaders, poets and other thinkers.
A key part of the Seder is the asking of the Four Questions, which explain the symbols and rituals and are traditionally asked by the youngest child at the table who is able to do so. Many modern Haggadot, however, add extra questions for personal reflection or to delve into a particular area of social justice. Here, therefore, are some additional questions queer families could ask at the Seder or, if you do not observe Passover, any time your family gathers for a meal and discussion.
The Four Questions actually begin with a fifth overarching question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” This prompts me to ask: How are we, as an LGBTQ family, different from all other families — and how are we the same? I believe that our similarities — in loving our children and helping them grow and learn — go deeper than our differences. At the same time, it can sometimes be useful to think about our differences as a way of finding pride in our identities. What can we learn from exploring points of connection and places of difference? How can we use our similarities to build bridges? Where, too, do our intersecting identities of ethnicity, race, geographic origin, gender, ability, religion and more offer us connection with other people and families, LGBTQ and not?
We move on to the first of the four traditional Passover questions: “On all other nights, we eat leavened food or matzo [an unleavened cracker]. Why on this night, only matzo?” The usual answer is that when Pharaoh finally let the Jews leave Egypt, they went quickly, grabbing their bread dough before it could rise. They were willing to adapt to eating unleavened bread in order to gain their freedom. As an additional question, therefore, I would ask: How has your family adapted to any challenges you may have encountered, either in starting your family or afterwards, and what have you learned from that experience?
The second Seder question is: “On all other nights, we eat various vegetables. Why, on this night do we eat only bitter herbs [represented by horseradish and romaine lettuce on the Seder plate]?” The usual answer is that they remind us of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt. My new question, then, in this year that marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, is: How can we and our children be reminded of the lives and struggles of LGBTQ families before us, and how can the stories of their lives help us today? (One answer is to look at the booklists I’ve compiled at mombian.com.)
The third Passover question is: “On all other nights, we don’t dip [our food] even once. Why on this night do we dip twice?” This is a reference to the Seder ritual of first dipping parsley in salt water to remind us of the tears of slavery and then dipping bitter herbs in charoset, a sweet paste of fruit and nuts that symbolizes the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves. I’ve heard it explained that dipping food in other food was something no slave had the wherewithal to do, and was therefore a sign of freedom. The second dip, into charoset, is to remind us there is sweetness even in bitter times. My question therefore is: How do we sweeten the bitterness of inequality for ourselves and our children? By finding community? Seeking allies? Taking action?
Finally, at a Seder we ask, “On all other nights, we eat either sitting upright or reclining. Why on this night do we all recline?” We are told that reclining while eating is a sign of luxury and freedom. I would ask, therefore: Even as we enjoy some freedoms for our families, how can we become better allies to other marginalized groups, both within and outside the LGBTQ community?
As we tell the story of the Exodus, we recall its message, “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9). Although I consider myself fairly secular, that message still resonates with me in this time of new pharaohs, new oppressions and debates about how to treat strangers coming into our land. However and whatever we may each celebrate this season, may we find meaning in it to carry us through the days ahead. Pharaohs can be overcome and freedom gained.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.