Click for larger view
View full resolution
Laura Markowitz and I have been friends for over 25 years. We started our conversation in Jerusalem in 1985, where we talked passionately about women and Judaism, and have encouraged and challenged each other steadily since. Laura has coaxed me to widen my thinking and taught me countless lessons on compassion, empathy, and praise. She is a visionary thinker, writer, and beautiful human being.
Today Laura and I are talking some more, and surprisingly, 2,000 years ago, Hillel summed up our recent conversations: "What is hateful unto you, do not do unto your neighbor. That is the whole Torah, all the rest is commentary. Now, go and study."
At each year's Seder, we Jews have a chance to look at what and how we choose to live. We look at the miracle of having choice. The Seder is our study ground. It is constructed to raise questions; these questions help us stay alive in our thinking, to be open and able to explore unmapped territory. I am going to use two Seders as starting places to illustrate how my thinking has changed over the last twenty-plus years.
One Seder took place last year here in Hollywood, CA where I live. The other Seder is one of my all time favorite Seders, with four friends, one of whom is this very Laura Markowitz, all Jewish Lesbian Feminists. This took place in Philadelphia, in the mid '90s.
I can't remember how it came to be a four woman Seder. I do remember how delighted we all were. We four could go deep with each other, in the spirit of the Seder but outside the Haggadah. We lay about on the carpeted floor. The long dining table towered over us like the temple from which we had escaped.
I had arrived on this floor in Philadelphia from the far reaches of Lesbian Feminist [End Page 234] Separatism, an orthodoxy as strong as any. I was a founding member of a women's collective who moved from New Haven to Blue Hill, Maine in the late '70s.
My feminism was justice-seeking and utopian, a creed that changed shape but kept its fire, when 16 years later, I had moved to Philadelphia and made this Seder with my friends Laura and Rebecca, and partner, Elana.
We raised our wine glasses and blessed. We asked our four or six or ten questions of tradition, of how to live our complex lives in freedom, dignity and joy. We spoke from our beautiful ideals, as Jews, Feminists, Lesbians. We were in accord. It was great.
Los Angeles 2010.
I like when a Seder ends with a round of applause, as ours did last year. A Seder is theater, after all. And the applause told me that just about everyone felt connected to it, somehow, some way. This was my goal: connection to our Freedom story and to each other.
I live in Hollywood, CA next door to my brother Aaron and sister-in-law Julia. A few miles away live my niece and nephew. When we gather for Sunday dinner we form a kaleidoscope of blended family: four generations ranging in age from 2 to 82. Of all 10 of us, only Aaron and I grew up in a traditional Jewish family where our father David rapid-fire read the entire Haggadah in Hebrew and our mother ladled out soup with kneidlach. The rest of the family comes to Seder through us.
In the weeks before Passover I interviewed the family and guests about their favorite parts of the Seder. I shaped the Seder around their answers and called it our "Greatest Hits Seder." Our Haggadah was 95% English, we read from Grace Paley and Reb Nachman, sang lots of freedom songs from Rise Up Singing and shared a splendid meal. I culled our Seder script from the backlog of more than thirty years of feminist Seders—that electric cache of idol-smashing new ideas.
Last year, I smashed some of my own idols. Our table was not the women's Seder of old. It included...