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Queer Seder takes social justice focus

UNC Hillel sponsored a Seder promoting LGBT acceptance.

Member of the Chapel Hill Jewish and LGBTQ communities gather at the Chapel Hill Hillel for seder.
Member of the Chapel Hill Jewish and LGBTQ communities gather at the Chapel Hill Hillel for seder.

UNC Hillel sponsored its first Queer Seder on Thursday, an event that coupled religious identity with sexual identity in hopes of furthering an inclusive environment for queer members.

“There’s a difference between saying, ‘Yes, we’re accepting,’ and actually creating a space for marginalized members,” said Seder leader Averyl Edwards, a member of UNC Hillel.

Edwards and Seder co-leader Jayna Fishman both said they identify as queer and wrote a specialized queer Haggadah, a Jewish religious text, for the event. It coupled traditional Seder rituals with new writing that they included to encompass the struggles of the LGBTQ community.

“Just as we read of our past and the Jewish struggle for redemption, we relate our modern queer recognition, freedom and acceptance,” the leaders said during the beginning of the ceremony.

At the start, everyone introduced themselves and shared their preferred gender pronouns. Throughout the ceremony, guests took turns reading different parts of the Haggadah for the group of about 30.

“Oftentimes people have to choose being queer or being religious,” Edwards said. “I think it’s important to have queer spaces that are inclusive of religion as well.”

The event brought an array of students and community members, some who did not identify as Jewish or queer. A few attendees said they came to support the cause and learn.

Edwards said throughout recent history, Seders have been used to celebrate and further social justice causes. She said Jewish people were involved in the civil rights movement, and Seders for women started in the 1980s.

Sophomore Rodnei Crutchfield is not Jewish, but he said he enjoyed the ceremony and can appreciate Passover, especially because of its roots in social justice.

“I think that the LGBT community would naturally appreciate the holiday because it is inclusive, and it is about fighting oppression in a different time period,” he said.

In the fall, the UNC Hillel hosted a queer Shabbat service in its effort to be more inclusive, Fishman said.

Both Fishman and Edwards said they were excited for the opportunity to lead the Seder. They agreed it was an important part of taking a more active part in the Hillel community.

“It’s a way of affirming our identities by giving us positions,” Edwards said. “The fact that Hillel is specifically trying to lift us up as queer Jews is empowering for us.”

The leaders said they hoped the Passover message of liberation would reach marginalized communities and help them to feel a sense of belonging within the religious community.

“You don’t have to break yourself apart to be religious and queer,” Fishman said.

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