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My Passover sets me free
A few tools for a sweet, joyful, and expansive holiday
Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday),
Passover begins tonight at sundown.
I LOVE Passover. It’s my favourite holiday. I have a folder on my computer dedicated to my collection of online and scanned Haggadot (the guidebook used to lead the interactive Passover meal called a Seder, ) music, prayers, poetry, teachings, readings, and other bits of inspiration.
This year, for the first time in many years, I am not leading a Seder. I will be hosted by friends new and old at Interfaith Seders both nights and to be honest, I am both relieved and nervous. Tonight, I will be hosted by a Jewish and Muslim family where we will sing songs in Ladino and Sephardi melodies that are new to me. And when the sun sets, we will eat our Ramadan fast-breaking Seder meal together. I imagine that my senses will be quite occupied with new melodies, foods, stories, and traditions.
Tomorrow night, I am bringing my daughter to a dear friend’s home for what I am calling a “Seder playdate.” (At least) three branches of chosen family will honour Passover in the week of Easter with informal sharing of our favourite parts of the Passover story, maybe woven somehow with Americas Next Top Model as a guiding theme (this is my host’s tradition and I want in), while the kids (maybe) entertain themselves with lego (These kids love battles and drama so I am thinking of inviting them to re-enact the Egyptian army chasing the Israelites to the sea.) I am excited to finally have a (chocolate) Easter egg as our Beitzah (symbolic roasted egg) on the Seder plate, which has been a wish of mine since I started reimagining Seders for our Interfaith realities.
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A note on food practices
I have not kashered my home. I will be eating all week on the same dishes I use the rest of the year. While I made an effort to eat lots of the bread and crackers and cookies in my cupboards and freezer before tonight, I am not hiding any of my food away for the week. I just choose not to eat those things. I do eat kitniyot (beans and rice and for some, quinoa) so my diet doesn’t really change much, which is a relief after childhood Passovers full of potato starch desserts and lasagna made of matza (giant, usually bland crackers representing unleavened bread.) And I view the seder foods I grew up with - boiled eggs, gefilte fish, horseradish, matza balls, egg matza, fruit jellies, flake bars, and macaroons, strawberry jam with whipped butter or cream cheese to spread on matza as an annual treat. I am stocked up.
I am Jewish and this is my Passover practice. I love finding ways to connect with the holiday while doing the bare minimum. Less stress for me equals more space for connection (See Human Design Projector). And maybe you need to work for it to feel its power. That’s cool too. (See Human Design Generator.) I share it all with you so those of you who celebrate will see that there are many ways to do so. However you are celebrating or wrestling with or avoiding or learning about this holiday is valid and welcome with me.
And I share some additional offerings because my love of Passover compels me to “lead” something for this holiday. Maybe you are opening this email in the hours before you sit down to a Seder meal. Or maybe midweek, when you want to connect to Passover even though you don’t have a practice of your own. Or maybe you are curious to see what this Feminist, witchy, Queer priestess has to say about this holiday. Whenever you are finding your way here is perfect. There is something here that is meant for you. (I am a fatalist and always believe this.)
Tell the Story
My Jewish practice focuses on following the meaning behind ritual practices over the rote and repetition and language of tradition. I cannot do the thing without knowing my WHY. Here’s where tradition and I meet: According to the rabbis of old, the core mitzvah (commandment or point of connection) for this holiday is to tell the story of the Exodus as if you, yourself were there, leaving Mitzrayim (usually translated as Egypt but literally “the narrow/stuck place”) for the Midbar (wildnerness and also shares a root with “the place of speaking”) on your way to Zion (usually translated as Israel/Palestine and is also that visionary final destination we long for on any journey.)
In recent years, I have led my Seders “off book.” With no Haggadah at hand, we bless the transition into holy time by lighting candles, bless and drink the four cups of wine/grape juice, rinse/wash our hands to ready them for the holy work of tasting, talk through and taste the foods we put on our Seder plate (both the traditional and modern ones), sing our favourite songs, and most importantly, share both a contemporary version of the story of Moses and the Exodus (making sure to highlight the women - Yocheved, Miriam, Shifra & Puah, Batya, and Tziporah) and our own stories of constriction to expansiveness over the past year. We go around the table and share where in our lives we have felt trapped or stuck. Then we share our hopes and dreams for the year to come - what would freedom look like?
As a lover and practitioner of Tarot and Oracle card readings, this year, I created a card spread for Passover. Inspired by this Exodus storytelling practice, it can be used at any time of the year and with any divination tools:
Divination: Passover Mitzrayim - Zion Spread
Where are you or have you been feeling stuck and constricted?
What feels like expansiveness? What message is spoken for you from your guides here?
What is the vision for where you want to be? How will you know that you have arrived?
The Sounds of Seder
My family’s Seders growing up were filled with folk songs about social justice and liberation. Every Gilbert Seder ended with Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ and often included rousing rounds of If I Had a Hammer and This Little Light of Mine. My cousins’ Seder wasn’t complete without the long recitations of Chad Gadya, complete with table thumping, actions and sound effects. This year, to get myself ready to write this message and put myself in the holiday mood, I have been exploring Passover playlists on Spotify. Thanks to modern technology and a wide assortment of Jewish practices, I can confidently say there is a playlist there for most people - and if you don’t find yours, you can make one. Music sits on our soul and connects us to our people and traditions at a sensual level. Like food. We remember. I invite you to play with the experience of music this Passover and see what gets freed in you as a result.
There are parts of the Passover/Biblical story that to me, feel stuck in past paradigms and cultural narratives (like any biblical story does for me most of the time.) So I do like the rabbis of the past (and present) and I create midrash (a story to explain a piece of text that feels uncomfortable or complicated in our current context.) A couple of years ago, I channelled this piece of the story - the Crossing of the Sea - in the midst of a Kohenet Shabbat service. It’s a vision of a way to step into hard things among community rather than alone. Check it out and let me know whether it resonates and how you might like to tweak it to be even more apt for our time.
Passover always falls on the full moon. In 2021, I was invited to write a poem inspired by this cosmic timing for my friend, Sharoni Sibony’s online Speakeasy Seder. It poured out of me within minutes once I let myself connect with the power of the full moon in Nissan, Aries season, Spring. Maybe it will shine on something for you, too:
We raise our glasses
Drunk on possibility
Full to the brim with history.
Shackles I slipped and abandoned
In the mud.
I have sipped my fill
I pour out my cup
On new earth
Leaving it invitingly empty
Ready to be filled up
Of green, new birth
A wide-open world
Round and shining
Outstretched arms and hands that catch me
Dance me In circles
Sing me psalms of hope today
And home tomorrow.
We raise our glasses
We are shining
We are full
We are alive and free.
Queering Tradition, Healing Tradition
In the spirit of liberation as a theme for Passover (who doesn’t want the world to be more free?) I am sharing a couple of exciting resources in the realm of gender and queerness in Judaism. I believe that queering our practices, rituals, traditions and texts heals them and us all. So here is an incredible art piece by Beit Toratah art, that plays with the gender of the Hebrew language in the Exodus text that introduces Moses. When you read the English, I invite you to notice what happens in your body when the genders of the characters in the story are flipped. Do you feel tension? Do you sigh with relief? something else entirely?
And finally, have you heard that there’s a Queer Yeshiva? And that they are on the verge of publishing the first-ever collection of Jewish legal opinions written by and for trans Jews? Now you have heard. And now you can read all about it!
I would love to hear about your favourite Passover traditions and questions (asking questions is another Passover tradition!) Hit reply or comment on this post. Easter and Ramadan traditions also welcome!
Chag Sameach, Ramadan Mubarak, Happy Easter and Happy long weekend to all who are celebrating.
Kohenet Annie Matan