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The Haggadah (Hebrew: הַגָּדָה‎, “telling”) is a Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Passover Seder. Reading the Haggadah at the Seder table is a fulfillment of the Scriptural commandment to each Jew to “tell your son” of the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus in the Torah. (“And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt. ” Ex. 13:8)

Themes of the Seder

The rituals and symbolic foods evoke the twin themes of the evening: slavery and freedom. The rendering of time for the Hebrews was that a day began at sunset and ended at sunset. Historically, at the beginning of the 15th of Nisan in Ancient Egypt, the Jewish people were enslaved to Pharaoh. After the tenth plague struck Egypt at midnight, killing all the first-born of Pharaoh to the first born of captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first born of livestock (Exodus 12:29), in the land. Pharaoh let the Hebrew nation go, effectively making them free people for the second half of the night.

Thus, Seder participants recall the slavery that reigned during the first half of the night by eating matzo (the “poor person’s bread”), maror (bitter herbs which symbolize the bitterness of slavery), and charoset (a sweet paste representing the mortar which the Jewish slaves used to cement bricks). Recalling the freedom of the second half of the night, they eat the matzo (the “bread of freedom” and also the “bread of affliction”) and ‘afikoman’, and drink the four cups of wine, in a reclining position, and dip vegetables into salt water (the dipping being a sign of royalty and freedom, while the salt water recalls the tears the Jews shed during their servitude).

The Four Cups

There is an obligation to drink four cups of wine during the Seder. The Mishnah says (Pes. 10:1) that even the poor are obliged to drink the four cups. Each cup is imbibed at a specific point in the Seder. The first is for Kiddush (קידוש), the second is for ‘Maggid’ (מגיד), the third is for Birkat Hamazon (ברכת המזון) and the fourth is for Hallel (הלל).‎[7][8]

The Four Cups represent the four expressions of deliverance promised by God Exodus 6:6-7: “I will bring out,” “I will deliver,” “I will redeem,” and “I will take.”[7]

Seder Plate

The Passover Seder Plate (ke’ara) is a special plate containing six symbolic foods used during the Passover Seder. Each of the six items arranged on the plate have special significance to the retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt.  The seventh symbolic item used during the meal—a stack of three matzot—is placed on its own plate on the Seder table.

The six items on the Seder Plate are:

Passover Seder PlateMaror and Chazeret: Two types of bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery which the Jews endured in Ancient Egypt. For maror, many people use freshly grated horseradish or whole horseradish root (ours had cooked beets and sugar making a condiment called chrein.)  Either the horseradish or romaine lettuce may be eaten in fulfillment of the mitzvah of eating bitter herbs during the Seder.

Charoset: A sweet, brown, pebbly paste of fruits and nuts, representing the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt

Karpas: A vegetable other than bitter herbs, usually parsley but sometimes something such as celery or cooked potato, which is dipped into salt water (Ashkenazi custom) reminds the participants that Passover corresponds with Spring and the harvest, which, in ancient times was a cause for celebration by itself.

Karpas is dipped in salt water to represent tears.

Zeroa: A roasted lamb bone, symbolizing the korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice), which was a lamb offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.

Beitzah: A hard boiled egg, symbolizing the korban chagigah (festival sacrifice) that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.

Focus on the children

Since the retelling of the Exodus to one’s child is the object of the Seder experience, much effort is made to arouse the interest and curiosity of the children and keep them awake during the meal. To that end, questions and answers are a central device in the Seder ritual. By encouraging children to ask questions, they will be more open to hearing the answers.

The most famous question which the youngest child asks at the Seder is the Mah Nishtanah – “Why is this night different from all other nights?” After the asking of these questions, the main portion of the Seder, Magid, gives over the answers in the form of a historical review. Also, at different points in the Seder, the leader of the Seder will cover the matzot and lift their cup of wine; then put down the cup of wine and uncover the matzot—all to elicit questions from the children.

The afikoman, which is hidden away for the “dessert” after the meal, is another device used to encourage children’s participation. In some families, the leader of the Seder hides the afikoman and the children must find it, whereupon they receive a prize or reward.

Order of the Seder

The Jewish Sages say that Passover occurs on the 15th of Nissan just as the moon grows for 15 days. The conclusion is that our growth must be in 15 gradual steps just like the Passover puzzle is constituted by 15 pieces that, when assembled, will give us freedom.

Kadeish (blessings and the first cup of wine)

Kadeish is Hebrew Imperative for Kiddush. This Kiddush is a special one for Passover, it refers to matzot and the Exodus from Egypt. Acting in a way that shows freedom and majesty, many Jews have the custom of filling each other’s cups at the Seder table. The Kiddush is traditionally said by the father of the house, but at our Seder, Rita recited the Kiddush.

Ur’chatz (wash hands)

In traditional Jewish homes, it is common to ritually wash the hands before a meal. According to most traditions, no blessing is recited at this point in the Seder, unlike the blessing recited over the washing of the hands before eating bread at any other time.

Three matzot are stacked on the seder table; at this stage, the middle matzah of the three is broken in half. The larger piece is hidden, to be used later as the afikoman, the “dessert” after the meal. The smaller piece is returned to its place between the other two matzot.

Magid (The telling)

Ha Lachma Anya (invitation to the Seder)

The matzot are uncovered, and referred to as the “bread of affliction”. Participants declare (in Aramaic) an invitation to all who are hungry or needy to join in the Seder. Halakha requires that this invitation be repeated in the native language of the country.

Mah Nishtanah (The Four Questions)

The Mishna details questions one is obligated to ask on the night of the seder. It is customary for the youngest child present to recite the four questions.[14] Some customs hold that the other participants recite them quietly to themselves as well. In some families, this means that the requirement remains on an adult “child” until a grandchild of the family receives sufficient Jewish education to take on the responsibility. If a person has no children capable of asking, the responsibility falls to their spouse, or another participant.[15] The need to ask is so great that even if a person is alone at the seder they are obligated to ask themselves and to answer their own questions.[15]

Ma nishtana ha lyla ha zeh mikkol hallaylot?
Why is this night different from all other nights?

Shebb’khol hallelot anu okh’lin ḥamets umatsa, vehallayla hazze kullo matsa.
Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either leavened bread or matza, but on this night we eat only matza?
Shebb’khol hallelot anu okh’lin sh’ar y’rakot, vehallayla hazze maror.
Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?
Shebb’khol hallelot en anu matbillin afillu pa‘am eḥat, vehallayla hazze sh’tei fe‘amim.
Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip [our food] even once, but on this night we dip them twice?
Shebb’khol hallelot anu okh’lin ben yosh’vin uven m’subbin, vehallayla hazze kullanu m’subbin.
Why is it that on all other nights we dine either sitting upright or reclining, but on this night we all recline?

We eat only matzah because our ancestors could not wait for their breads to rise when they were fleeing slavery in Egypt, and so they were flat when they came out of the oven.
We eat only Maror, a bitter herb, to remind us of the bitterness of slavery that our ancestors endured while in Egypt.
The first dip, green vegetables in salt water, symbolizes the replacing of our tears with gratefulness, and the second dip, Maror in Charoses, symbolizes the sweetening of our burden of bitterness and suffering.
We recline at the Seder table because in ancient times, a person who reclined at a meal was a free person, while slaves and servants stood.
We eat only roasted meat because that is how the Pesach/Passover lamb is prepared during sacrifice in the Temple at Jerusalem.

The Four Sons

The traditional Haggadah speaks of “four sons”—one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one who does not know to ask. Each of these sons phrases his question about the seder in a different way. The Haggadah recommends answering each son according to his question, using one of the three verses in the Torah that refer to this exchange.

The wise son asks “What are the statutes, the testimonies, and the laws that God has commanded you to do?” One explanation for why this very detailed-oriented question is categorized as wise, is that the wise son is trying to learn how to carry out the seder, rather than asking for someone else’s understanding of its meaning. He is answered fully: You should reply to him with [all] the laws of pesach: one may not eat any dessert after the paschal sacrifice.

The wicked son, who asks, “What is this service to you?”, is characterized by the Haggadah as isolating himself from the Jewish people, standing by objectively and watching their behavior rather than participating. Therefore, he is rebuked by the explanation that “It is because God acted for my sake when I left Egypt.” (This implies that the Seder is not for the wicked son because the wicked son would not have deserved to be freed from Egyptian slavery.) Where the four sons are illustrated in the Haggadah, this son has frequently been depicted as carrying weapons or wearing stylish contemporary fashions.

The simple son, who asks, “What is this?” is answered with “With a strong hand the Almighty led us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage.”

And the one who does not know to ask is told, “It is because of what the Almighty did for me when I left Egypt.”

Go and learn

Four verses in Deuteronomy (26:5-8) are then expounded, with an elaborate, traditional commentary. (“5. And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my parent, and they went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6. And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. 7. And we cried unto the Lord, the God of our parents, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. 8 And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.”)

The Haggadah explores the meaning of those verses, and embellishes the story. This telling describes the slavery of the Jewish people and their miraculous salvation by God. This culminates in an enumeration of the Ten Plagues:

Dam (blood)—All the water was changed to blood
Tzefardeyah (frogs)—An infestation of frogs sprang up in Egypt
Kinim (lice)—The Egyptians were afflicted by lice
Arov (wild animals)—An infestation of wild animals (some say flies) sprang up in Egypt
Dever (pestilence)—A plague killed off the Egyptian livestock
Sh’chin (boils)—An epidemic of boils afflicted the Egyptians
Barad (hail)—Hail rained from the sky
Arbeh (locusts)—Locusts swarmed over Egypt
Choshech (darkness)—Egypt was covered in darkness
Makkat Bechorot (killing of the first-born)—All the first-born sons of the Egyptians were slain by God

With the recital of the Ten Plagues, each participant removes a drop of wine from his or her cup using a fingertip. Although this night is one of salvation, the Sages explain that one cannot be completely joyous when some of God’s creatures had to suffer. A mnemonic acronym for the plagues is also introduced: “D’tzach Adash B’achav”, while similarly spilling a drop of wine for each word.

At this part in the Seder, songs of praise are sung, including the song Dayenu, which proclaims that had God performed any single one of the many deeds performed for the Jewish people, it would have been enough to obligate us to give thanks.


Ilu ho-tsi, ho-tsi-a-nu,
Ho-tsi-anu mi-Mitz-ra-yim
Ho-tsi-anu mi-Mitz-ra-yim
Da-ye-nu Da-ye-nu
English Version:
If God would’ve taken us out of Egypt and not executed judgment upon them,
it would’ve been enough for us–Dayenu.
If He would’ve executed judgment upon them and not upon their idols, it
would’ve been enough for us–Dayenu.
If He would’ve judged their idols, and not killed their firstborn, it would’ve
been enough for us–Dayenu.
If He would’ve killed their firstborn, and not given us their wealth, it would’ve
been enough for us–Dayenu.
If He would’ve given us their wealth, and not split the sea for us, it would’ve
been enough for us–Dayenu.
If He would’ve split the sea for us, and not let us through it on dry land, it
would’ve been enough for us–Dayenu.
If He would’ve let us through it on dry land, and not drowned our enemies in
it, it would’ve been enough for us–Dayenu.
If He would’ve drowned our enemies in it, and not provided for our needs in
the desert for 40 years, it would’ve been enough for us–Dayenu.

Kos Sheini (Second Cup of Wine)

Magid concludes with the drinking of the Second Cup of Wine.  The blessing, which includes the words “who brings forth” (motzi in Hebrew), is said with matzah.[19]


The blessing over the matzah is recited and then the matzoh is eaten.

Maror (bitter herbs)

The blessing for the eating of the maror (bitter herbs) is recited and then it is dipped into the charoset and eaten.[19]

We now conclude the Magid section of the Seder:  Tradition teaches us that in every generation, we ought to look upon ourselves as if we personally had gone out of Egypt. Therefore, it is our duty to thank the One who performed all the miracles for generations past and present. We start saying Psalms praising God for taking us of Egypt. We will continue after we eat the meal.

Psalm 114

When Israel came forth out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language;
Judah became His sanctuary, Israel His dominion.
The sea saw it, and fled; the Jordan River turned backward.
The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like young sheep.
What ails you, O that sea, that you flea? The Jordan River, that you turn backward?
You mountains, that you skip like rams; you hills, like young sheep?
Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob;
Who turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters.

Koreich (sandwich)

The maror (bitter herb) is placed between two small pieces of matzo, similarly to how the contents of a sandwich are placed between two slices of bread, and eaten. This follows the tradition of Hillel, who did the same at his Seder table 2000 years ago (except that in Hillel’s day the Paschal sacrifice, matzo, and maror were eaten together.)

Shulchan Orech (the meal)

The festive meal is eaten.

Kos Shlishi (the Third Cup of Wine)

The drinking of the Third Cup of Wine.  The Third Cup is customarily poured before the Grace after Meals is recited because the Third Cup also serves as a Cup of Blessing associated with the Grace after Meals on special occasions.

Kos shel Eliyahu ha-Navi (cup of Elijah the Prophet)

In many traditions, the front door of the house is opened at this point.

Most Ashkenazim have the custom to fill a fifth cup at this point. This relates to a Talmudic tradition that Elijah will visit each home on Seder night as a foreshadowing of his future arrival at the end of the days, when he will come to announce the coming of the Jewish Messiah.

Hallel (songs of praise)

The entire order of Hallel which is usually recited in the synagogue on Jewish holidays is also recited at the Seder table, albeit sitting down. The first two Psalms, 113-114, are recited before the meal. The remaining Psalms of the Hallel proper, Psalms 113-118, are recited after the Grace after Meals, followed by Psalm 136.

Afterwards the Fourth Cup of Wine is drunk and a brief Grace for the “fruit of the vine” is said.


The Seder concludes with a prayer that the night’s service be accepted. A hope for the Messiah is expressed: “L’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim! – Next year in Jerusalem!” Jews in Israel, and especially those in Jerusalem, recite instead “L’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim hab’nuyah! – Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem!”

Following the Seder, those who are still awake may recite the Song of Songs, engage in Torah learning, or continue talking about the events of the Exodus until sleep overtakes them.

As for us, we relaxed and enjoyed one another’s company completing the evening with a variety of teas and light dessert!

Rita and son prepare the table


Haiti Journal: Doing disaster relief

By Arele Klein · January 20, 2010

ZAKA volunteer Arele Klein, right, at the Israeli field hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, days after the January 2010 earthquake. (ZAKA)
ZAKA volunteer Arele Klein, right, at the Israeli field hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, days after the January 2010 earthquake. (ZAKA)


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (JTA) — Arele Klein, a volunteer for the ZAKA disaster relief organization in Israel, shares his experiences and thoughts in the following journal from the earthquake zone in Haiti.

Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010, 10 A.M.: Two days after the quake, the phone call comes in from ZAKA Operations Commander Haim Weingarten: “You’ve been selected as a member of ZAKA’s delegation to the earthquake disaster in Haiti. We’re talking about a very difficult incident on the scale of the tsunami. Volunteers should be physically fit, mentally prepared and with experience. Please give your permission and ask for your wife’s approval.”

As a ZAKA volunteer of long standing, I have no hesitation. I give a positive answer on the spot, on the condition that my wife agrees. I go home, tell my wife about the mission and ask for her approval.

“My head says no, my heart says yes,” she says. With that, I receive her blessing. 

12 P.M.

All members of the delegation arrive at the Home Front Command base for briefings, vaccines and medications against all kinds of diseases that might break out in the disaster area. Only then do I begin to understand what I am about to do. Fear of the unknown begins to creep into my thoughts.

Overnight, aboard the 14-hour flight from Israel to Haiti

It’s a good opportunity to meet new friends from the Israeli delegation, the Home Front Command, rescue specialists, medical professionals, members of the Israel Police Forensic Unit and others. There are a lot of good people with the volunteering spirit who want to help, assist and rescue. 

Friday, Jan. 15, erev Shabbat

We land at the destroyed Port-au-Prince airport, and I immediately begin to understand what this is about. Planes carrying aid from around the world land one after the other. I see the collapsed buildings and inhale the acrid smell of decomposing bodies. It’s a smell that is so familiar to us as ZAKA volunteers, but I never encountered it so overwhelmingly.

Kabbalat Shabbat

I find myself, together with the members of the Israeli delegation, on a soccer field — our makeshift base. Amid the turmoil and commotion, a minyan for Shabbat prayers forms. The head of the IDF delegation, Brig. Gen. Shalom Ben Aryeh, joins Rabbi Shaul Ofen and others in prayer. The words of the prayers take on an even deeper significance and meaning: “O King who causes death and restores life.”

We still haven’t managed to unpack the containers, so all that we brought for Shabbat remains packed away. We receive an assignment of two challahs and can only dream of the fish and meat we normally eat on Shabbat. At least our situation is better than that of the other ZAKA delegation that arrived directly from Mexico; they only have canned goods. 


The sophisticated field hospital is built overnight, under incredibly difficult conditions. We are ready to begin work. 

The ZAKA delegation is assigned to work in the field hospital as paramedics. We are also given responsibility for the deceased. I still haven’t had time to breathe, but word already has spread and a long line of Haitians awaits treatment.

Words cannot describe the pain and sorrow that confront us — such difficult images, so hard to bear. Men, women and children are in various states of injury, from light to critical, many with severed or dangling limbs, all waiting in line quietly. The calm is chilling. There are no cries or screams, just a line of Haitians waiting.

The ZAKA volunteers receive severed organs for burial — hands, feet and other organs — in numbers that are impossible to count. I feel a strong need to put my feelings on hold, to try to work like a robot. But the strategy doesn’t work for long. When no one notices, I move away from the tent and break down, crying for the sorrow and grief that has descended on the people of Haiti. Here are human beings, people just like me, in such a state of sheer helplessness and horror. 

Sunday, Jan. 17, 12 P.M.

A Haitian child who appears to be around 10, the same age as my son, arrives at the hospital after being rescued from one of the collapsed buildings, hovering between life and death. His mother muttered words and phrases in a language I can’t understand. But her eyes, streaming with tears, express everything. After 30 minutes attempting to save his life, I inform her that her son died. The intensity of her cries pierces the air with pain.

Like all ZAKA volunteers, we are used to receiving expressions of gratitude from both religious and secular people with phrases such as “Good for you” or “You’re doing holy work.” But there can be no comparison to the extent of the kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name) that the ZAKA delegation is doing here in Haiti.

The public address system in the field hospital never seems to stop in its calls for our presence: “Arele from ZAKA, please report. Sami from ZAKA, please report.” From the commander on down to the individual soldiers, everyone understands the importance of, and praises, the work of the ZAKA volunteers.

We have made such warm and friendly personal connections here. I think to myself, why do we need to fly so far to realize how special the people are in Israel?

Monday, Jan. 18, 4 A.M.

As we attend to a woman in labor with twins, the first baby is still-born. Trying to figure out how to deliver the terrible news to the mother, I am surprised when the monitor jumps to life, showing that the second child is alive.

We cannot count the number of bodies we’re transferring for burial in a mass grave. The human brain cannot absorb the quantity of bodies we’ve seen in these first few days in Haiti. I discover a strange sight at one of the mass graves: Families have a special tune that they sing at the graveside, a song that moves back and forth from song to tears, singing and crying. Who can understand it?

I receive a 4-year-old boy for treatment accompanied by his 16-year-old brother — the only survivors in the family still buried beneath the rubble of their home. Again the scene repeats itself: There was nothing to do but pronounce the 4-year-old child dead. When I announce the painful news, his brother cries out in anguish and, in total despair, begins running toward the mountains. He does not want to receive his brother’s body.

We continue to receive the injured, who wait patiently in line for treatment. We work like machines, but the line only seems to get longer. But who can stop at the sight of people so desperate for help?

(Arele Klein, 39, a married father of two, has volunteered with ZAKA for 16 years. Haiti is his first international assignment.)

This is the cover of Bruce Feiler’s new book, coming out in a few days.  I love his writing and he is giving us an excerpt here…check it out…and click on the book to find out more!americasprophet

For two years, I traveled to touchstones in American history and explored the role of the Bible, the Exodus, and Moses in inspiring generation after generation of Americans. I examined how American icons of different eras—from the slave girl Eliza carrying her son to freedom across the Ohio River in Uncle Tom’s Cabin to an orphaned Superman being drawn out of a spaceship from Krypton— were etched in the image of Moses. And I probed the ongoing role of Moses today, from the Ten Commandments in public places to the role of the United States as a beacon for immigrants. Even a cursory review of American history indicates that Moses has emboldened leaders of all stripes—patriot and loyalist, slave and master, Jew and Christian, fat cat and communist. Could the persistence of his story serve as a reminder of our shared national values? Could he serve as a unifying force in a disunifying time? If Moses could split the Red Sea, could he unsplit America?

Just as I was completing my journey, the 2008 presidential election was reaching its historic climax. Once again, Moses played a prominent role. Hillary Clinton compared herself to the Hebrew prophet. With “every bit of progress you try to make,” she said, “there’s always gonna be somebody to say, ‘You know, I think we should go back to Egypt.’” She asked, “Do we really need to move forward on transformative social change?” before answering: “Yes, we do.” Barack Obama also placed himself in the Mosaic tradition, though he claimed the role of Moses’ successor. “We are in the presence of a lot of Moseses,” he said in Selma, Alabama, in 2007. “I thank the Moses generation; but we’ve got to remember that Joshua still had a job to do. As great as Moses was . . . he didn’t cross over the river to see the Promised Land.” He concluded: “Today we’re called to be the Joshuas of our time, to be the generation that finds our way across this river.”

Obama’s use of the Exodus story became so prominent that his rival, John McCain, issued a video in which he mocked Obama for anointing himself “The One.” The video concluded with a clip of Charlton Heston splitting the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments. But the echoes of the Exodus only continued. On the day before the election, the African Methodist Episcopal Church bishop for Ohio stood up before 60,000 people in Columbus and thanked God for “having given us a Moses and a Martin called Barack Obama.” As civil rights pioneer Andrew Young said to me days later, “We are living in biblical time. The amount of time that passed between Martin’s assassination and Obama’s election—forty years—is the same amount of time the Israelites spent in the desert.”

I have posted below an excerpt from Andrew Sullivan’s response to the passage of the anti-gay-marriage proposition in California.  As I post this, I know that the ACLU and others have brought legal action to stop the enactment of the proposition and these actions may turn back this tide. 

As a mother of a gay son, I am saddened by this loss.  But I do not feel defeat, and I know, as both my son and Andrew know, that this is but a stop at a station on a long journey toward justice for all.

I honor my son and the person he loves.  I will do everything I can to protect them.

My Prayer:

Gracious God:

We are reminded in your Word of the struggle for justice by people who are oppressed and we are encouraged by your promise to the Hebrew children when you gave them the B’Ha’Alot’Cha, the cloud by day and the fire by night, to lead them through the wilderness.  It is recorded that the voice of Adonai spoke to them from the flame and smoke throughout their journey.  In the evening when they camped and rested the fire would settle down, but in the morning it would rekindle itself and reform as a cloud pillar that ultimately led them to the Promised Land.

We pray, gracious God, that you will be with our son and all those who are struggling alongside him, and that you will bring him and all your people fully to the land of promise.   May we hear your Voice.

Be with us, we pray.

Seeking Spirit

Torah Reading: Numbers 8:1 – 12:16   Haftarah Reading: Zekhariah 2:14 – 4:7

Oh, No, You Don’t


Heart-breaking news this morning: a terribly close vote has stripped gay couples in California of their right to marry.

Yes, it is heart-breaking: it is always hard to be in a tiny minority whose rights and dignity are removed by a majority. It’s a brutal rebuke to the state supreme court, and enshrinement in California’s constitution that gay couples are now second-class citizens and second class human beings. Massively funded by the Mormon church, a religious majority finally managed to put gay people in the back of the bus in the biggest state of the union. The refusal of Schwarzenegger to really oppose the measure and Obama’s luke-warm opposition didn’t help.

….But I realize I am not shattered. My own marriage exists and is real without the approval of others. One day soon, it will be accepted by a majority. And this initiative in California can and will be reversed, as California’s initiatives are much more fluid than those in other states; and the younger generation is overwhelmingly – 2 to 1 – in our favor. The tide of history is behind us; but we will have to work harder to educate people about our lives and loves and humanity.

It cannot be denied that this feels like a punch in the gut. It is. I’m not going to pretend that the wound isn’t deep and personal, like an attack on my own family. It was meant to be. Many Obama supporters voted against our rights, and Obama himself opposes our full civil equality. The religious folk who believe that Jesus stood for the marginalization of minorities, and who believe that my equality somehow threatens their children, will, I pray, see how misguided they have become. And make no mistake: they won this by playing on very deep fears of gay people around kids. They knew the levers to pull.

But some perspective from someone who has fought this fight as long and as personally as anyone in this country. Twenty years ago, equality of gay couples was a mere idea. Forty years ago, it was a pipe-dream.

In the long arc of inclusion, we will miss our goals along the way from time to time. Today, we have full marriage rights in two states, we have many civil marriages in California that will remain in place as examples of who gay people really are, we have civil unions in many more places, and marriage rights in other parts of the world, as beacons to America. And this is a civil rights movement. It goes forward and it is forced back. The battle to end miscegenation took centuries. These are the rhythms of progress. Sometimes losing, and being shown to lose, shifts something in the minds of those watching as a small group is punished for daring to dream of full civil equality. In this battle we have already had far more defeats than victories. But each time, we have come closer to our goal. And in the hearts and minds and souls of so many, we have changed consciousness for ever.

California has full civil equality in law for gay couples. In time, full civil marriage equality – the only real measure of equality – will follow. And it will spread, state by state, more slowly now, and perhaps more organically from legislatures, rather than courts, which would not be the worst idea. And observing this backlash against us will reveal to many the cruelty of allowing majorities to take the rights of tiny minorities away.

If we had won this, this civil rights battle would be all but over. Now, it isn’t. So we get back to work, arguing, talking. speaking, debating, writing, blogging, and struggling to change more minds. The hope for equality can never be extinguished, however hard our opponents try. And in the unlikely history of America, there has never been anything false about hope.

(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty.)

Also read:

The specifics of the California Vote:  A tale of two votes:   click this title to compare the votes and learn about how the votes were cast this year…

The first vote was cast before gay marriage was legal anywhere in the nation. Eight years later, both Massachusetts and California allowed same-sex couples to wed. Whether gays should marry was now a cultural battleground. Polls showed young voters overwhelming for gay marriage. Older voters, churchgoers and African Americans tended to be strongly against. The two sides fighting over Prop. 8 raised $74 million in the nation’s costliest ballot measure this year.

Votes on Proposition 8 as reported to the California secretary of state by Nov. 5. County registrars have until Dec. 2 to report final votes counts. At least 1.6 million votes were uncounted the day after the election, officials said. Additional data also from the secretary of state.

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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October 2021



On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory