By Annette Gross
Spring is almost here, and with it comes the Jewish holiday of Passover.
Passover is the major Jewish spring festival that commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, lasting seven or eight days from the 15th day of Nisan. This year it will be Friday, April 22nd to Saturday, April 30th.
Note the words “liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.” Ever since my son came out and I became active in the LGBT community, I saw the parallels between the Israelites’ struggles as they left Egypt to begin new lives, and the struggle that LGBT people have as they navigate the coming out process.
In the Haggadah (the text recited at the Seder on the first two nights of Passover, including a narrative of the Exodus), we read, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the L-rd, our G-d, took us out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm. If the Holy One, blessed be He, had not taken our fathers out of Egypt, then we, our children and our children’s children would have remained enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.”
This passage reminds me of what it must be like for an LGBT person to not be out – to be in the closet. During their enslavement in Egypt, the Israelites could not practice their religion – they could not be who they were meant to be.
I recently found “Different from All Other Nights: A Queer Passover Haggadah,” compiled and with original readings by Rabbinic Intern Nikki Lyn DeBlosi, PhD. In it, she writes, “Each year, Jews at seder tables across the world dutifully chant the first of four traditional questions: ‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’ But in Hebrew the question omits the word ‘why,’ asking instead: ‘Mah nishtanah ha-lailah ha-zeh mi-kol ha-leilot?’ What differentiates this night from all other nights?”
In our American culture, Jewish children will often be asked questions such as “why don’t you celebrate Christmas?” or “why don’t you believe in Jesus?” These questions often make the Jewish child feel different from his or her peers, making them feel they don’t fit in. Well, it is the same with LGBT children. A boy may have a group of friends who are beginning to date girls. He might be asked, “Why don’t you like girls?” or “Is something wrong with you?” Or a child questioning their gender might be asked why they want to use the “wrong” bathroom.
Dr. DeBlosi explains, “Sometimes why questions put us on the defensive. We worry that we have to justify our difference, or even our very existence. Sometimes we feel we have to squeeze ourselves into a very narrow definition of what it means to be Jewish. Sometimes why questions imply a value judgment: Why are you this ‘strange’ way rather than that ‘normal’ way? Why are you different, unusual, problematic, ‘queer’? Why can’t you just fit in?”
Again, it is the same with LGBT people. Sexuality is on a continuum, yet the LGBT person is most often told they are “wrong.” They are outside the norm. Honey – there IS no wrong! Unfortunately, so many people are light-years away from understanding this.
So as I sit around my Passover table this year, not only will I celebrate my ancestors’ flight to freedom, I will celebrate the coming out of all of the LGBT people I know. I will also pray that the gay boy who is afraid to tell his parents who he really is will gain the strength to do so. I will pray that our legislators understand transgender people are no different from them, and all they want to do is pee in peace. I will pray that the lesbian couple who wants to get married won’t be hassled by their county clerk.
In the Haggadah, we also read about the Ten Plagues – Blood, Frogs, Lice, Beasts, Cattle Plague, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness, and Death of the Firstborn. Here in Indiana, LGBT Hoosiers face their own Ten Plagues – Discrimination, Bigotry, Bullying, Depression, Suicidal Thoughts, Misunderstanding, Victimization, Self-Hatred, Fear, and Rejection.
We all struggle with something in our lives, whether it’s our sexuality, our gender identity, or an illness (either physical or emotional) – none of us are immune. And we all want to be accepted for who we are. I am not sure, but I like to think that when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, they prayed for someone to free them and allow them to live their lives the way they wanted to.
This Passover, as I sit around my seder table, I will pray that my gay son and my LGBT friends will one day be fully free here in Indiana – that their state legislators will stop trying to pass laws that would harm them and make their lives more difficult. I will pray these state legislators will finally “get it” and unanimously agree to pass a full civil rights bill which will protect all LGBT Hoosiers.
The final words in the “Queer Passover Haggadah” remind us that even though time separates us today from the Israelites who lives thousands of years ago, their dreams and wishes are no different than ours:
May slavery give way to freedom.
May hate give way to love.
May ignorance give way to wisdom.
May despair give way to hope.
Next year, at this time, may everyone, everywhere, be free!