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LGBTQIA+ Seder discusses oppressed communities gaining insight for the future

(Elizabeth Polvere/Daily Collegian)

About 15 University of Massachusetts students gathered for a LGBTQIA+ Seder dinner on April 20 to focus on past, present and future LGBTQIA+ liberation and addressed issues continuing to face the community.

Inside the Hillel House on North Pleasant Street, students poured grape juice for one another and passed plates of symbolic foods. Both Jewish and non-Jewish students read aloud from the Haggadah, lifting up their glasses to commemorate the Passover holiday in relation to impactful leaders of the LGBTQIA+ community. Discussion was fostered on past journeys of liberation and how to continue these journeys today.

Junior Hillel House Engagement Intern Jack Luckner put on the event two days after this year’s Passover.

The dinner was put on last year by preceding engagement intern Sam Stettiner. The event was open to anyone, from those who are both LGBTQIA+ and Jewish, or neither LGBTQIA+ or Jewish.

“From my internship, I found I was not the only Jewish student who had felt unwelcome in other queer spaces on campus,” Stettiner said. “Anti-Semitism is still a major problem at UMass and is largely ignored, even by activism spaces that work to eliminate other forms of oppression in the UMass community.”

According to Stettiner, Swastikas have been drawn on different places throughout campus. Jewish students have been harassed and even spat at and queer Jews often feel ousted from queer and activist communities. Stettiner and UMass Hillel’s engagement and outreach coordinator Miriam Cantor-Stone would later configure the UMass Queer Jews student group to help create a queer Jewish community at Hillel.

According to Luckner, Passover is often a time where people go back to their family of origin. The event was intended to create a Seder that would celebrate all different identities and realities.

“The overarching theme of the holiday is about oppression and liberation from oppression,” Luckner said.

“I want to use it as a site to see how far we have come and all the amazing things that have happened for LGBTQIA+ people, but also what do we have left to do because not everything is fixed, not everything is perfect, not everything is going to be fixed and not everything is going to be perfect,” they said. “At the same time, celebrate what we have done and look toward what we can do next.”

“It was also a great opportunity to engage non-Jewish queer folks and non-queer Jewish folks in conversations on these topics,” Stettiner said.

Conversations ranged from personal experience of inclusion within different communities, to ways to foster more peace in the world.

According to the Hebrew Bible, Jews were enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years. The Passover holiday commemorates the Jewish journey to freedom. The dinner integrated the traditional Seder customs and story with additions that have a specific meaning in the LGBTQIA+ community. Often times, conversation linked the two together, as Luckner explained no one is just Jewish or just queer, but can be both in relation to a dimensional version of themselves.

The six traditional Seder plate foods were served representing the Passover story: Zeroah, roasted bone that represents the holy offering brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem; Beitzah, a hard-boiled egg, reminds of a festival offering that was brought to the Holy Temple of Pesach; Maror, horseradish root that symbolizes the bitter suffering endured by slaves in Egypt; Charoset, a mixture of apple, walnuts and wine resembling the bricks of mortar telling of the hard work of slaves; Karpas, slice of onion, boiled potato or strings of parsley dipped in salt water representing the tears of the slaves in Egypt; Chazeret, the second portion of the Passover herbs eaten during Seder.

The Seder included additional items meant to have specific meaning to the LGBTQIA+ people: orange signifying LGBTQIA+ inclusion, coconut to represent all things hidden within people and sticks, stones and flowers to represent “the path” of beauty, blockages and the mix that make the journey whole.

Each student was allowed to keep the Haggadah, as well as a supplemental packet that related Jewish traditions to members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

According to Luckner, the main intersection between the two communities is that there are a lot of LGBTQIA+ Jews and the themes about liberation, activism and social justice in Judaism can correlate to similar movements in the LGBTQIA+ community.

Luckner has incorporated the concept in past events through the Hillel House, such as a memorial service for the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

“This is not necessarily playing directly into that holiday or going directly with that holiday, but being sort of a counterpart to it as we have had our day of mourning in the fall and now we’re celebrating,” Luckner said.

Luckner addressed that the Jewish community at UMass isn’t generalizable.

“There are people who are more accepting than others and people who are more willing to take a stand and be helpful and be on that side of things. Then there are other people…” they said.

Cantor-Stone continues to work toward making Hillel a welcoming environment for all students.

“It proves that religion, faith, spirituality…are not static. Traditions can be for everyone, and can be changed and updated to include everyone,” Cantor-Stone said.

While the dinner recognized struggles facing the world such as discrimination, environmental injustice and political turbulence, the night ended with singing “Salaam,” a song composed by Mosh Ben Ari traditionally sung in Hebrew and Arabic.

“Od yavo shalom aleinu. Od yavo shalom aleinu. Od yavo shalom aleinu . Ve’al kulam,” sang the group led by Cantor-Stone.

The English translation of Salaam: “Peace will come upon us, yet. Peace will come upon us, yet. Peace will come upon us, yet. And upon everyone.”

Caeli Chesin can be reached at mchesin@umass.edu.

Comments
One Response to “LGBTQIA+ Seder discusses oppressed communities gaining insight for the future”
  1. David Hunt 1990 says:

    Meanwhile, Islamic migration into Europe has turned France, Sweden, Norway, and other countries into ever-hotter nests of anti-Semitism. And American Jews clamor to bring them here.

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