At the end of March through to early April Jews all over the world will gather for Passover, or as we call it in Hebrew Pesach (PAY-sahch). Pesach is a time of reflection, remembrance, celebration and renewal for all Jews.
I'll digress for a moment just to give those of you who are unfamiliar with Pesach a little history lesson: Pesach means to pass through, to pass over, to exempt or to spare. It refers to the fact that God "passed over" the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt. Pesach begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month. It is the first of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance. Agriculturally, it represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel/Palestine. However, the primary observances of Pesach center around the Exodus from Egypt after generations of slavery.
For me Pesach is a particularly important time to gather with other LGBT Jews of color and our allies to bring more visibility to our existence, cultures and many traditions. As a Jewish-Arab/American, lesbian, disabled, feminist it is difficult to find a Jewish or LGBT space that allows me to bring my whole self. In some Jewish spaces my Arabness and my decades of work to free Palestine are not welcome. In some LGBT spaces my commitment to challenging anti-Semitism, ending racism in all of its forms and working across movements for justice is not welcome. Where, oh where, does a complex queer like me go to find community where my faith, culture, political commitments, identities and traditions are welcomed?
My friends, the Jewish Diaspora is vaaast and much more culturally diverse than many people know. In the United States we are most familiar with Ashkenazi Jews, Jews that are descended from Germany and Eastern European countries. However, in many parts of the world there are sizable communities of Sephardic Jews (descended from Spain and Portugal) and Mizrahi Jews (descended from Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries) many of whom blend their Latin@, Asian, African and Middle Eastern languages, foods, music, art and spiritual practices with their practice of Judaism. Who knew?
This year, on April 3rd (we picked the third because 3 is such a queer number!), I'll be resuming a much cherished tradition with my dear friend Ana Lara. Over a decade ago we began organizing Seders for LGBT Jews of color and our POC allies in Boston. This year we will be organizing a multi-racial, queer led Seder for friends and family of color in the DC area. Why? So that we can all bring our brown, black, disabled, feminist, immigrant, multi-lingual, justice minded, old, young and fabulously queer selves to the table. Yep, every bit of who we are will be welcomed! No questions asked!
A Seder rooted in justice is not a new concept for many in the LGBT or Jewish communities. For example the Jewish word for justice and righteousness, 'tzedek,' appears in the Torah 120 times! I think we can surmise that the Torah made the concept of justice a high priority. Equally important is the long history queers of color have of doing the kind of groundbreaking justice work that connects issues, identities and communities. As LGBT Jews of color we most certainly have a multi-layered legacy of justice work to be proud of!
So, on April 3rd just take a moment to think about a small gathering of LGBT people of color who have come together to conduct our Seder in many Latin@, Asian and Middle Eastern languages. Together we will be eating unleavened foods from many Jewish communities around the world. Our Haggadah, which is the Seder reader, will contain readings, poems and prayers about ending genocide and racism, standing in solidarity with First Nations people, calling for sexual liberation and gender justice, challenging anti-Semitism and praying for justice in Palestine and an end to war.
On April 3rd we will be building community, honoring our legacy and history of justice, enjoying our cultural traditions and bringing our whole selves to the Seder table. This is what I would call justice... sweet, sweet justice!