News flash: The Easter Bunny is a girl… and is not a bunny! Now that I have your attention, many of us who were raised as Christians forget the biblical Last Supper was actually a Seder. Anti-Semites conveniently suppress that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were Jewish. Easter and Passover are always together because they are both moveable feasts. Who knew? For a long time, I didn’t.
Raised in South Dakota, the only Jewish person I was familiar with was Anne Frank. And, of course, Jesus. The third Jewish person I knew, I married in 1977. His family was mortified and had to muster every “tolerance” molecule they had to accept his choice of me as his fiancée. I soon was referred to as “the shiksa,” a quasi-derogatory term for a non-Jewish woman. Oy vey!
My Norwegian American, ultra-Lutheran grandmother morphed her own religious bigotry into bittersweet acceptance. Grandma walked up to my handsome new groom at our wedding reception. She peered up at him and yelled as only slightly deaf people can bellow: “Your people killed my savior… but you seem like a nice boy!” Uff da! (Norwegian for “oy vey.”)
Being the quintessential good sport, I offered to convert. My new husband, petrified at the idea of me becoming Jewish, envisioned my conversion and gently talked me out of it. He was clearly familiar with my meshuggah approach to life. (Slightly nuts, but with zeal!)
He realized if I converted, next, I would undoubtedly become a rabbi. I would remodel the kitchen to accommodate kosher requirements, and he would spend his adult life like his childhood: going to the temple all the time and wearing things on his head. (My new hubby was a bareheaded-type guy.)
Imagine his chagrin when I announced, “I’m creating a Seder!” I loved the idea of Seder, the ritual at Passover, which is a commemoration of the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt at the hands of Pharaoh. Of course, we all have Pharaohs we need deliverance from, whether that Pharaoh literally enslaves a whole race or is a newly elected QAnon supporter who wants to overthrow the government. Seder is a beloved holiday for everyone, Jew and shiksa alike.
A theater producer at the time, I roped in every theater friend I could find and created a Seder production team. We decided our Seder would be a feminist one and we would include — hold on to your yarmulkes — women!
Being an ardent women’s rights advocate, I was taken aback by some of the customs my husband had grown up with. His mom had dairy dishes, meat dishes, Passover dairy dishes and Passover meat dishes. I’m thinking, “Geez, women did not make up these rules.” The patriarchs dared to create ritual texts for the Seder (called a Haggadah) with no mention of women during the flight from Egypt. They were saying, “Let my people go… except we’re going to keep our women serving us like slaves.” How about you let US go!
Let’s see: We were supposed to gather manna, milk the goats, clean the tents, bake the unleavened bread — quickly! — keep the kids quiet, separate the meat and dairy dishes plus the separate set of Passover dishes, clear the dwelling of anything non-Kosher, prepare the table and cook the special Passover meal, then smile at relatives we don’t really like… all while chafing at our historical contributions being ignored as we wait on you? Not at our table!
My first shiksa Passover finally came to pass, excuse the expression, and was a sit-down Seder for 60 people. As custom dictates, we set a place for the wandering prophet Elijah, just in case he decided to return. (As it turns out, Elijah probably did more to wipe out matriarchal goddess cultures than any of the other prophets, but that’s another column.) In any event, we set a place for Miriam, too, just in case she wanted to drop by.
After all, if it hadn’t been for Miriam and that ancient shiksa Princess Bisyah, Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses would have had a very different fate than leading the Jews — males and females — out of Egypt. Throughout history, there have always been women and girls, making everyone’s history possible.
This year, my shiksa Seder Zoom will include having each guest reflect on:
1. Current oppression in their lives: “I feel enslaved by the addiction to please everyone all the time,” “I think I have a drinking problem” or “I have a compulsion to customize holidays to my personal feminist liking”;
2. Actions to take in the coming year to sever those self-designed ropes of said enslavement;
3. Five things they are grateful for.
Sadly, my marriage to my first husband ended, but I’ll always be grateful to him for being a mensch and introducing me to a rich heritage I continue to celebrate.
Happy Easter, and may Patty the Easter Platypus bring you your heart’s desire!
Ellen Snortland has written a column continuously since the early ’90s. She also coaches writers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.