Date: March 19, 2021
Marc Wernick is one of the organizers of this year’s LGBTQ seder in Baltimore: “We’ve opened our tent wider, and it’s made it easier for more people to attend.” (Provided photo)
Last Passover, organizers of Baltimore’s LGBTQ Community Seder were forced to cancel the annual gathering due to the COVID-19 virus.
But this year, even a global pandemic can’t keep the LGBTQ community from celebrating Pesach, Judaism’s most widely observed holiday.
Marc Wernick, an LGBTQ seder organizer and Bolton Street Synagogue congregant, says approximately 235 people have registered for the Zoom seder, which will be held on Sunday, Mar. 21, at 5 p.m.
When the seder was last held in 2019, approximately 70 people attended.
Funded through a seed grant from JPride Baltimore, the seder has grown to include 13 sponsors including area synagogues, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, Eshel, Faith Communities of Baltimore with PRIDE, and Repair the World.
American Sign Language interpretation for the seder will be provided by Encoda Services LLC.
“A couple of things make this seder especially meaningful,” says Wernick, a financial analyst for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration who grew up in Montgomery County and now resides in Baltimore’s Brewers Hill neighborhood. “The sense of community … reminds us that we’re not alone as gay Jews. And I think the Passover liturgy and themes of freedom are especially resonant to LGBTQ people.”
Seder participants will use a special LGBTQ-friendly Haggadah created by GLOE — the GLBTQ Outreach & Engagement program at the Edlavitch DCJCC, Keshet, the Kurlander Program for LGBTQ Outreach and Engagement, and the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program.
Wernick says the Haggadah will include some “distinctly queer parts” in which traditional parts of the Passover story have been adapted for LGBTQ participants. For example, instead of the section regarding “The Four Sons,” the Hagaddah includes a reading called “The Four Queers.”
“There’s the forgotten queer, the queer of Stonewall, the queer of today, and the queer of tomorrow,” says Wernick.
The Hagaddah also includes five questions — the traditional four plus the additional, “Why on this night do we have pride?”
“We think there’s a logical tie-in to Passover from the queer experience,” says Wernick, who notes that the seder will be a “safe space” for LGBTQ community members whether they are openly gay or not.
“We ask permission before taking photos [in case guests are not comfortable being identified],” Wernick says. “We take extra steps so people who come to the seder can be their authentic selves.”
While seder attendees will not break matzoh together in person, seder organizers created “goodie bags” that can be picked prior to the seder at Bolton Street Synagogue (212 W. Cold Spring Lane), Chizuk Amuno Congregation (8100 Stevenson Rd.) and Beth Am Synagogue (2501 Eutaw Place). The bags contain macaroons, charoset and candles, as well as creative offerings by gay poets and artists.
Bolton Street’s Rabbi Andy Gordon will lead the ritual portion of the seder, and festivities will include opportunities for attendees to share stories of freedom.
Wernick says he is pleased with the diversity of this year’s seder participants. “There are traditional family units, interfaith couples and Jews of color,” he says. “We’re like a rainbow within a rainbow!”
The fact that this year’s seder will be virtual has pros and cons, says Wernick.
“I won’t be able to find a boyfriend since [on Zoom] I won’t be able to see if he has a ring on his finger,” he jokes. But Wernick says, “The world has become a different place. There isn’t the physical sense of community, but there’s still community. We’ve opened our tent wider, and it’s made it easier for more people to attend. People with mobility problems can come now. It’s also easier to organize the seder this way.”
In the time of the pandemic, Wernick says he believes finding community and having the opportunity to practice Jewish traditions “are more important than ever.”
For information about Baltimore’s LGBTQ seder, visit queerseder.eventbrite.com.