What It’s Like Inside a Queer Feminist Seder

It involves reading haggadahs from 'The Velveteen Rabbi' and a savory brisket that is braised for seven hours.

Apr 25 2016, 11:00pm

Photo via Flickr user John Lodder

Over the weekend, millions of Jews around the world ate bitter herbs, charoset, and braised meats in remembrance of the exodus from Egypt.

Karen Tongson, an English and gender studies professor at USC, celebrated queer feminism while she was at it.

Tongson, a Filipino-American who is currently teaching a class at USC titled "Food, Media, and Culture," cooked the brisket for this momentous queer feminist Seder. Her partner is Jewish and according to her, any Seder has the potential to be a queer feminist one. MUNCHIES reached out to her to get a clearer sense of how exactly things go down at a queer feminist-themed Seder.

MUNCHIES: Hi, Karen. What exactly is a queer feminist Seder? Karen: It's all based on whatever haggadah is used. These are the readings that form the foundation of the Seder. It was hosted by our friend Samantha Cohen, who is a local writer. She introduced us to this particular haggadah by The Velveteen Rabbi. It is a long set of readings that is framed and contextualized through a more progressive lens around the conflict of the region of the Middle East, instead of the more traditional and scriptural readings on the story of Passover. Also, the focus changes from sons to daughters.


Clockwise starting from top left: Sandra Rosales, Karen Tongson, Samantha Cohen, Sarah Kessler.

How did you hear about it? My partner is Jewish. It is not the only queer-oriented Seder that I know about. There are many of them all over Los Angeles. I know many other queer Jewish women here and many of them seem to have other alternative haggadahs, if not the ones from The Velveteen Rabbi. A lot of them include secular texts like poems by the lesbian poet Adrienne Rich that were appropriate for the occasion, and also some poems by Marge Piercy. When my partner and I told other people about this Seder that we were attending, a lot of others told me that they were going to Seders that were similarly queer and alternative-oriented.

I think that every Seder has the potential to be a queer feminist Seder.

Was this your first explicitly queer feminist Seder? I guess you can say that every Seder that I've attended are queer or feminist Seders, because most of my friends are queer or feminist. We used this haggadah last year, but it wasn't explicitly like, "Oh, this is going to be a queer feminist Seder!" Half of us weren't queer and half of us were.

How is the food like at a queer feminist Seder? It is kind of a potluck. I took on the task of making the brisket because I like to make meat. I like the challenge of feeding people a lot of meat, and figuring that process out. It came out great. I'm much more oriented toward a savory flavor profile, so I found a recipe that didn't include any kind of sugar or anything that would reduce into anything sweet.

I made a basic mirepoix and braised it for seven hours in red wine, broth, and herbs. It was very herbaceous and oniony. Because it was cooked low and slow, it was really tasty. It was silken, moist, and fell apart. People really liked its savoriness. I mean, I got the Jewish seal of approval!


Brisket. Photo courtesy of Karen Tongson

How would you describe the ambiance and vibe of these Seders? It wasn't as ritualized and formalized as sometimes Seders can be. There were a lot of us and it was certainly an atmosphere of sharing. There were some people who have never been to a Seder at all before, and there was this sense of excitement because of the language and politics of our chosen haggadahs. People were really appreciative of the readings. Sure, it was a little more raucous and chaotic because there were a lot more people to feed, but we did sit formally in a table and sang songs together.

Do you have any advice for anyone who is interested in having a queer feminist Seder next year? I'm not Jewish but I think that every Seder has the potential to be a queer feminist Seder, depending on who does it and depending on the perspective that people bring to the text. The very first Seder that I attended was with a bunch of queer people, so I don't know if I would call that a queer feminist Seder, but I guess you can call it an impromptu one. What message do you want to impart during this Passover ritual?

Thanks for speaking with me.