A contemporary Jewish commitment to outreach and inclusion, both of interfaith families and Jews by choice, as well as the LGBTQ community, all spiritual seekers, are core values rooted in the historic development of progressive Jewish religious thought. Many of us seek to reclaim the universal message of our biblical prophets, teaching that the Torah’s ethical ideals were meant to embrace all people. In no context is this perspective more clearly reflected than in the new ways that we have come to understand the meaning and observance of Passover.
While traditional interpretations of the Exodus have tended to emphasize the particular meaning of the story for Jews themselves, many Jews today are inspired by its timeless messages and themes to proclaim a universal ideal for all humanity, giving new significance to the ancient invitation, “Let all who are hungry come and eat!” The memory of slavery and the promise of liberation is transformed as a paradigm for human history in general, with the Jewish experience broadened to serve as a symbolic hope for oppressed people everywhere. While the link of ancient memory and future redemption is fundamental to the historic Haggadah text, it has become radically expanded to envision the time when all men and women will be freed from every form of tyranny and suffering.
This inclusive, accessible understanding of Passover’s meaning has special significance for LGBTQ people and for those of all religious backgrounds who choose to join themselves to the faith and community, history and destiny of the Jewish people, or who share that history and destiny with their loved ones. Because its story is a universal one, the Haggadah’s challenge that we should remember the Exodus as if each of us personally were redeemed from slavery becomes a powerful way to claim this historic legacy for oneself. The liberation from previous spiritual struggle, the journey through the wilderness and the revelatory encounter at Sinai all become a symbolic model for the individual experience of anyone whose own personal wanderings have led them to their own Exodus from the closet—from the slavery of hidden identities and self-denial of one’s true, divinely-created nature.
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