My Non-Jewish Boyfriend Is an Essential Part of My Passover Seder

I wasn't planning on bringing him this year — but witnessing a moment of Jewish connection changed my mind.

Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday.

I love the ritualistic combination of profundity and utter silliness, I love the simultaneous focus on past, present and future, and I have even come to love the eggs in salt water. But most of all, I love it because it’s the Jewish holiday that my family does the biggest.

Towards the end of February we all start to get twitchy about who will volunteer to cram the 30 to 40 guests around their dining room table. When my wonderful family — large in number and tiny in stature — congregates for Passover, we all talk at the same time to catch up on a whole year of not all being in the same place. Things can be rushed and loud and hectic, but the room is full of laughter and warmth.

After a childhood of seemingly interminable services, I’ve been delighted by the post-COVID era innovation of the 60-minute Seder. While there is some debate in my family over the importance of doing particular sections in full and in Hebrew, and the propensity for tension over the assignment of the wicked child, the general consensus is quite relaxed: We want to tell the story, we want to eat the food, we want to sing the songs. And we want to do it with the people we love.

Last year, for the first time, my boyfriend — who isn’t Jewish — joined us for our seder. It was a bold move. I pitched it to him as something of a trial by fire: Oh boyfriend of less than three months, would you like to not only meet my entire extended family all in one go, but also do so in a setting with which everyone else is much more familiar than you are? Would you like it to involve a language you can’t read and songs you don’t know, which may require you to make public animal sounds or pretend to be a stick? Would you like to be a foot taller than the average height of the room?

A resounding yes. This is the man I love.

He was, in my opinion, a hit. He didn’t mind being listed in the seating plan as “Hannah’s friend” — in fact, he still keeps the label in his wallet. He’d done some excellent revision beforehand which meant he was very well-equipped to commit an onslaught of names and faces to memory. A lot of people told him how brave he was to have come, and he was utterly charming about it. I loved having him there, and he commented afterwards on how different it was from his previous interactions with organized religion in its inclusivity and inbuilt joy.

But even though last year went very well, I initially wasn’t planning on bringing him to the Passover seder this year. We discussed it a while ago but abandoned the idea, simply because it was logistically complicated — he’s back at university and getting from there to where our seder is happening is a bit tricky. There will be plenty more seders, we decided. It felt disappointing but sensible; very much not the end of the world.

And I really felt fine with this — until I very suddenly didn’t.

I was driving to a friend’s house and passed through Stamford Hill, an area of North London with a large Haredi, majority Hasidic population (a quick Google search tells me it is home to the largest concentration of Hasidic Jews in Europe!). I always feel big, convoluted feelings seeing Orthodox Jewish people out and about. On the one hand, I feel a huge connection and protectiveness around seeing other Jewish people simply living in the world. I always wish I was wearing my Star of David or something visibly Jewish so that I could make that connection more explicit. At the same time, I recognize that the way I “do” Judaism is so different from an Orthodox community’s understanding and daily experience of it. In the way that their Jewishness is alien to me, mine likely is to them, and I find myself wondering whether my version would look viable, legitimate and equal to everyone of that world. To witness, it feels simultaneously so comforting and so distancing. It is my world, but completely not. It is joyful, and also complex, and the joy is both strained by and contingent upon this complexity.

This time, the big feelings were centred around watching two men in shtreimels — the large fur hats worn by some Ashkenazi Jewish men — waiting to cross the road, chatting and laughing together. I was so struck by the universality of the image, and by how many similar tableaus of friendships were taking place all across London at that very moment. In my head, I created a little flip book, slotting people in and out of these small, momentary portraits of loving each other. The content of the conversations is so completely secondary to them happening at all: beautiful moments of normalcy and intimacy. Casual, crucial connection. And in this mental whirlwind where ideas of love, of friendship, of Jewishness, of cultural sharing and cultural individuality, of community and of universality all pirouetted around each other, I reached the sudden and strong conviction that actually, I really want my boyfriend to come to seder.

This epiphany, of course, didn’t vault the logistical hurdles. But it made things very clear. One of the things that brings me most joy in the world is to share the things I love with someone who hasn’t had the chance to love them yet. On a small scale, this means being delighted and quite pleased with myself if a friend enjoys a bite of what I’ve ordered at a restaurant. On a larger scale, this means that inviting people into spaces and ideas that feel sacred, and feel like mine, is an act of immense love and intimacy to me. Having people accept that invitation and embrace something I’ve told them is important to me is an act of love in return.

So my boyfriend will be coming to my family seder after all. A moment of connection witnessed from the outside reinforced how much that connection means to me from every angle. Jewishness, and my own precise version of it, is part of what I’m made of. Paying attention to the instances where this aspect of my identity feels important — instances where it feels like something in me is glowing from the inside out — and trying to understand where that feeling leads me, has become increasingly meaningful but no less challenging. I like what this looks like right now, and I like the idea that it can and will look like so many different things throughout my life. I like being part of something that belongs to me, individually and uniquely, and also to so many people I love, and also to so many people I have nothing to do with. And I’m so excited for every iteration of working out what resonates, and what doesn’t, and building my collection of special things from there.

But for now, I’m just happy to be able to have the person I love by my side for “Dayenu” this year. Fittingly, that is more than enough.

Hannah Davis

Hannah Davis (she/her) is a third-year Spanish student at Oxford University. She’s Jewish in an orange-on-the-Seder plate, “Only the Good Die Young,” “Falsettos” and “The Producers,” adorable anxiety, reclaimed yenta kind of way. She was a 2022-2023 Hey Alma College Writing Fellow.

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