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Marking the Exodus With Kukush and Calamari

What does the path to freedom look like?

In the Haggadah it says: “Once we were slaves, now we are free.” That transition is recounted and celebrated in a “Seder” — literally an “order” of fifteen sequential steps.

Freedom means different things to different people. My great journey to freedom was wresting myself out of my ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of origin, and into life as a secular, progressive woman. But I find that I can’t recount my path to freedom in an orderly way.

The transition to freedom is chaotic. It is sprawling and muddled and ugly and glorious and confusing and difficult. In the story of Passover, the transition includes an ancient legend of a redeemer, a young girl challenging her father, another daughter betraying her father, a detour into deeper suffering and darkness, a redeemer with a speech impediment, — and, of course, plagues, journeys out, hot pursuits, persistent courage, profound miracles, dancing, singing, complaining and new troubles. It is a mess.

While some may honor the Passover story with order that counters the pandemonium, in my home we embrace it.

We don’t have a Seder; we have Chaos. This year I served a discordant menu: kukush cake (my childhood favorite) and calamari, a current treat. Plus my friends brought their eclectic potluck offerings of past and present. We indulged in nostalgic remembrances of our personal histories, our stories of freedom, and passionate plans of advocacy and reform for a better tomorrow.

The Chaos is a reminder to me, that for those who are captive today — whatever the culprit, be it addiction or poverty or repression — the path to freedom is never straightforward. For those who have made it to the other side of the shore, we can put aside unrealistic expectations of tidy journeys, and choose to display the persistence and chutzpah needed to keep on supporting chaotic fights for freedom.

I’d like to think my ancestors, the freed slaves of Egypt, would approve of my approach.

Leah Vincent is a writer, advocate and co-producer of the soon-to-be-launched, a website devoted to stories of successful transitions from ultra-Orthodoxy. A graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School, she is currently finishing up her own memoir about leaving ultra-Orthodoxy.


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