Our Asian Jewish Passover Seder Celebrates Our Blended Identities

“This is the first seder ever where I feel like I belong.”

It’s the second night of Passover and the usual fundamentals are here: a haggadah in one hand, glass of Manischewitz in another, seder plates on the table and a buffet laden with hametz-free goodies. What isn’t usual are our fellow guests. For the first Passover in our lives, we don’t feel alone as Asian Jews at the seder table. Here, there are plenty more just like us.

It’s 2022 and this is the first in-person Passover organized by The LUNAR Collective, a national organization by and for Asian Jews. David is one of the organizers, and Vanessa is one of the attendees. As we begin reading from our haggadah, Vanessa finds that Moses’ story has been framed in parallel to something she knows innately: being adopted. Vanessa is an adoptee from China. And in the text of this haggadah, the fact that Moses was adopted is stated explicitly. She’s caught unaware, hit by a multitude of emotions all at once: shock, because this is the first time she’s heard someone say Moses being pulled from the river was his adoption; shame, because she’s never considered this before, even though it was very obviously adoption; sorrow, because this shows how little adoptees see themselves in the world, even in the Torah; and gratitude, that now she is seeing the Passover story in an entirely new light. That she might have even a tiny piece of her identity in common with Moses, the savior of the Jewish people, is a soul-shaking revelation.

She reads the next section, a play on the traditional “Four Children” in the haggadah. But in this specific rendering of the text, the “four children” represent different parts of the LUNAR community: the Mixed Race and Interfaith Asian Jew, who asks, “Why do I have to choose?” The patrilineal Jew, who struggles to feel welcome in “spaces that do not recognize the wholeness and completeness of their Jewish self.” The Jew-by-Choice, who responds to the gatekeeping question “How are you Jewish?” with “Because I am.” And the adoptee.

David invites Vanessa to read the words of the adoptee. “The Asian Jewish adoptee has a lot of questions, some of which they know how to ask — and some they don’t,” Vanessa recites. “Who am I? Am I Jewish enough? … yes, they are Jewish enough. They don’t need to justify anything about themselves, whether it is their Asian heritage or their Jewish faith — every aspect of what makes them so uniquely them is not just valid but beautiful and worthy of love.”

Tears stream down Vanessa’s face. No one says a word, but privately David thinks to himself, All the work organizing this, the stressing whether we’d have enough food, the texting everyone to make sure people showed up, the moving chairs and tables and arranging the seder plates… it was all worth it. It was all worth it for this moment.

Another attendee says, “This is the first seder ever where I feel like I belong.” This reinforces what David has been seeing from other LUNAR events. People sometimes worry that creating these affinity spaces will divide the Jewish community. But he observes the opposite happening: they inspire and motivate Asian American Jews to embrace their Jewish identity.

Photo by Delia Bush

The next year, Vanessa steps up to become, like David, a LUNAR Collective Los Angeles Community Leader. Working closely together along with our third community leader, Maetal Gerson, we create a robustly-attended Hanukkah gathering (the day after Christmas, we enjoy Chinese food with fellow Asian Jews) and a lovely Lunar New Year excursion.

In 2023, Passover rolls around again. This time Vanessa joins the haggadah committee, seeing “under the hood” how it all comes together. Our haggadah was a hit, but LUNAR has decided to take it up a level including artwork created by various community members and a brand-new “LUNAR Nigun” song for us all to sing together.

This time, we feel an extra challenge. As we continue this tradition, we work to make sure it caters to everyone, but our community has many different needs. For some people, this IS their Passover experience and they want more traditional elements. Others only heard about a seder when they received the invitation to this event, and don’t want anything too intimidating. And everyone is craving something that addresses their Asian Jewish identities in meaningful ways. We want our seder to keep growing to meet everyone’s expectations.

An eager team of skilled writers create fresh, interpretive readings based on the traditional elements, and we ask Rabbi Mira Riviera, LUNAR’s rabbi-in-residence, to guide us through the rituals as she’s done in past years.

Food is another major consideration; we mix cultures, offering some traditional Ashkenazi staples while asking our community to bring their favorite Passover-friendly dishes in a potluck style. Homemade matzah ball soup and haroset sit next to steamed fish and noodle-free pho. It’s a beautiful mix of flavors and heritages.

Last is the act of gathering itself. For the second year in a row, David’s rabbi, Zoe Klein-Miles, donates her magically decorated backyard. We feel it’s fitting to have our LUNAR community gathering outdoors, under the sky, the stars and the moon, between the jacaranda trees and under the string lights. And this time NuRoots, an initiative of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, gives us generous funding to enable us to make our event a reality. Again, our seder is a success, different from most other seders but traditional in its own way.

Photo by Delia Bush

When you’re a member of two marginalized groups, both who face indescribable prejudice, the story of Passover takes on even more significance. It is a story of survival, courage and resilience. Planning an event that honors all of our full identities requires celebrating our Asian identities and blending them seamlessly with the Jewishness that brings us to the seder table in the first place. Each time, as we sit together under the Los Angeles sky, all of us — mixed-race, Jew by Choice, adoptee, patrilineal, matrilineal, parent raising Jewish kids, immigrant, American-born — eat our bitter herbs, drink sweet wine, laugh together, cry together and feel the sense of belonging we’ve yearned for all our lives — together.

And now, in 2024, we’re excited to do this all again.

If you’re in New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles and would like to attend Seder & Song: An Asian Jewish Passover, you can sign up here: The LUNAR Collective Upcoming Events.

Vanessa Bloom and David Chiu

Vanessa Bloom (she/her) is an Asian Jewish writer and educator from Orange County, California. She loves history, visiting the mountains, and copious amounts of Jewish humor.

David Chiu (he/him) is a Los Angeles Community Leader for The LUNAR Collective, the Marketing & Communications Manager for The Braid, and a member of the Board of Trustees of Temple Isaiah.

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