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Pride Seder marks a time of celebration for Jewish and LGBTQ+ Vermonters

In 1910, Lithuanian artist Ben Zion Black painted the interior of Burlington's Chai Adam Synagogue. Much of the painting was destroyed when the building underwent renovations. Recently, it was relocated to Ohavi Zedek Synagogue
Courtesy of the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue
In 1910, Lithuanian artist Ben Zion Black painted the interior of Burlington's Chai Adam Synagogue. Much of the painting was destroyed when the building underwent renovations.

Seder is a Jewish ritual service and ceremonial dinner that begins the springtime festival of Passover.

A prominent Passover theme, liberation, sparked a different kind of Seder in the mid '90s — a Pride Seder.

The event marks key milestones in the struggle for LGBTQ rights.

And this marks the first year that a Pride Seder is being held in Vermont. The Burlington event will be held Wednesday, at the Ohavi Zedek Social Hall.

To give us some context on Pride Seder, Vermont Public's Mary Engisch spoke with Jason Lorber, a consultant, actor and comedian who’s a member of the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mary Engisch: I want to start with the Seder itself. Traditionally, what does it represent? And what does it look like?

A man smiles for the camera.
Courtesy
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Jason Lorber

Jason Lorber: So traditionally, when folks think of Seder, they think of Passover. And Passover is the story of Moses, and it recounts how the Jews left Egypt going through the Red Sea and the 10 plagues. It's my favorite holiday. For many Jews, it's one of our favorite holidays. The family gets together; we go around the Passover table. And Seder literally means "order" in Hebrew. So it's the order of the meal where you're telling the story as you're eating and drinking lots of wine, and matzah.

How is pride Seder different from traditional Seder?

This Seder literally does not have anything to do with Passover or the story of Moses — but it is the story of liberation. But it's focused on the LGBTQ community: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities. It was created because of the incredible power that ritual has in our lives. And as Jews — as LGBTQ Jews — we wanted an opportunity to celebrate who we are, having felt double persecution of both being Jewish and being LGBTQ.

You know, in a traditional Seder, there's the recounting of the 10 plagues in Egypt. Well, we're going to celebrate the six colors of the rainbow flag. And so some of it's campy; some of it's fun. There's going to be singing, and there's going to be some noshing some treats. And there's some very deep connections that will resonate with people who are LGBTQ,

I'd love to know more. What is that going to look like and sound like when you're celebrating?

When we have the first cup, it's not going to be of wine; it's going to be a cup of water. And we're going to say the first cup is for the past — the water in this cup is clear to remind us of our long history of invisibility. We drink tonight, to those who are left out of the story of our people. We drink to those who labored to restore their memories. And we drink to those who did not live to see this moment. And then interspersed with that, we have some Jewish prayers in Hebrew. And traditionally, they're always done masculine. Well, we're going to mix that up.

I can tell just from your reading this that this has deep meaning — this is meant to be some pretty serious stuff. Were you part of writing some of the script? Take me into a little bit of that process.

There was a committee of folks — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender folks — who were emailed some drafts of the Haggadah. We looked at different scripts that were used in San Francisco, in New York, and has all been pieced together. You know, as I read through it, I get choked up just reading it. This has tremendous meaning. And there's also tremendous joy.

 The cover of the Pride Seder Haggadah.
Courtesy
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The cover of the Pride Seder Haggadah.

When you read through this in a traditional Seder, one of the things that you have is a ritual handwashing. And there's a prayer for it. But for our Seder, for the Pride Seder, we are not doing that. And the reasoning is because LGBTQ Jews have been told for so long that we are unclean. And so as a result, we say this and we recognize it in saying tonight there will be no ritual handwashing to affirm that we come to this table already whole and pure.

And Jason, tell us who this event is for.

So during the Seder, we'll be reading and we're going to have people who are Jewish and LGBTQ be the readers. And there's a place for our allies. We want them there to be our allies and to support us. And all the readings are going to be done by LGBTQ Jews, because our voice has been silenced. And now is our opportunity to share with each other.

We're definitely going to be singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," along with "Hinei Ma Tov" and some other Jewish songs. But celebrating how far we've come and who we are as as a community, and really having a nice time to connect with each other. I'm curious to see — so who are all the LGBT Jews?

Can I ask you if you've had any pushback from other members of either the Jewish faith or other members of the LGBTQ+ community about combining these two forces?

It's been very supportive. And I'm heartened by the fact that this is a statewide event. So even though this is held at my synagogue, Ohavi Zedek, we have support from the Rutland Jewish Center, from Beth Jacob Synagogue in Stowe, from Temple Sinai, from [Jewish Community of Greater Stowe.] There's so many different organizations, Hillel at [the University of Vermont.]

We have support from Outright Vermont, which is not Jewish. The Pride Center of Vermont. We have a whole list of leaders of lesbians and gay men and bisexual and transgender people who have put their name to this and who want to say, "Yes, we're here to celebrate and be in this together."

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vermontpublic.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered, Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday.
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