Friday night, Jews will begin Passover with the same question they ask every year: “When do we eat?”
But also, “Why is this night different from all other nights?
It’s a night that is especially important to me. I grew up pretty much unaffiliated for most my life and didn’t start to embrace my Jewish heritage until my later teens. Passover has always left a special mark on me, though. I remember my Jewish grandfather leading the Seder as my gentile father set the table with his version of matzo ball soup and beef brisket. I can guarantee that his kitchen was the furthest thing from kosher.
Growing up in an interfaith family, the traditional route never quite worked for us. Of course, Passover itself has seen its own fair share of breaks with tradition over the years.
In the early 1980s, Jewish feminist scholar Susannah Heschel came across a haggadah (Seder text) written by some Oberlin students trying to add a feminist voice to Passover. It was a story of a young girl asking if there is room in Judaism for a lesbian. She is then answered with, “There’s as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the Seder plate.”
Heschel was inspired by this story but couldn’t follow it literally by placing bread on the Seder plate. Jews refrain from eating leavened bread during Passover and she felt including a crust of bread would carry the message that the LGBT community was in violation of Judaism itself.
She chose to include an orange on her family’s Seder plate. She wrote, “I chose an orange because it suggests the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life.”
With the pride festivals in both Phoenix and Flagstaff just around the corner, I’ll remember this new tradition and how progress in both human rights and the human spirit do not negate the importance of religious identity. When I ask myself how the night of Passover is unlike any other night, I’ll remember how far I’ve come in realizing my own identity and embrace the journey ahead.
Commentary by Associate editor, Kelcie Grega