I was raised in South Dakota. The only Jewish person I was familiar with was Anne Frank… and, of course, Jesus. The third Jewish person I knew, I married. His family was mortified and had to muster every “good sport” molecule they had to accept his choice of me as his fiancée: a shiksa, a non-Jewish woman. Oy vey!
My ultra Norwegian American Lutheran grandmother morphed her own religious bigotry into bittersweet acceptance. Grandma walked up to my handsome new groom at our wedding reception. She peered up at him and yelled as only slightly deaf people can bellow: “Your people killed my savior… but you seem like a nice boy!” Uff da! (“Uff da” is Norwegian for “oy vey.”)
Before our wedding, I offered to convert to Judaism because, frankly, from what I could see, the world needed more Jews. Who doesn’t like witty, frugal shoppers and conversationalists who throw in oh-so-handy Yiddish expressions? I figured I could add to the numbers.
My new husband, petrified at the idea of me becoming Jewish, envisioned my conversion and gently talked me out of it. He was clearly familiar with my meshuggah approach to life — slightly nuts, but with zeal!
He realized if I converted, I would next become a rabbi, remodel the kitchen to accommodate kosher requirements, and he’d spend his adult life like his childhood: going to temple all the time and wearing things on his head. (My new hubby was a bareheaded-type guy.)
Imagine his chagrin when I announced, “I’m creating a Seder!” I loved the idea of Seder, the ritual held at Passover commemorating the Jews’ exodus from Egypt at the hands of pharoah. Of course, we all have pharaohs we need deliverance from, whether that pharaoh literally enslaves a whole race or is the newly elected official who wants to prevent you from getting birth control or telling you who you can or can’t marry. Seder is a beloved tradition for everyone, Jew and shiksa alike.
A theater producer at the time, I roped in every theater friend I could find and created a Seder production team — not all shiksas; some of us actually knew what we were doing. We also decided our Seder would be a feminist one and we would include — hold on to your yarmulkes — women!
Being an ardent women’s rights advocate, I was taken aback by some of the customs my husband had grown up with. His mom had dairy dishes, meat dishes, Passover dairy dishes and Passover meat dishes. I’m thinking, “Geez, women did not make up these rules.” Then, the patriarchs had the audacity to create ritual texts for the Seder (called a Haggadah) and not have one mention of women in the flight from Egypt? Really? Come on! Let my people go, except we’ll keep our women serving us like slaves. You let us go!
Oh, sure, we were supposed to gather manna, milk the goats, clean the tents, bake the unleavened bread — quickly! — keep the kids quiet, separate the meat and dairy dishes and the separate set of Passover dishes, prepare the table and cook the special Passover meal while smiling at relatives we don’t really like… but then, to not even have a nod to our own unique form of oppression while we wait on you patriarchs? Not at our table!
This goyishe momma wasn’t having any of the same ol’ same ol’ regarding an ancient religion celebrating liberation. I also have the same disdain for the Christian holiday of Christmas, where the women do all the food shopping and prepping, wrapping of gifts, and decorating while Santa gets all the credit.
My first shiksa Passover finally came to pass, excuse the expression, and was a sit-down Seder for 60 people. As custom dictates, we set a place for the wandering prophet Elijah if he decides to return. As it turns out, Elijah probably did more to wipe out the matriarchal goddess cultures than any of other the prophets did, but that’s another column. In any event, we set a place for Miriam, too, just in case she wanted to also drop by.
After all, if it hadn’t been for Miriam and that ancient shiksa Princess Bisyah, pharaoh’s daughter, Moses would have had a very different fate than leading the Jews — females and males — out of Egypt. There have always been women and girls throughout history, making everyone’s history possible.
This year, during my shiksa Seder, each guest will reflect on:
1. The current oppression in their lives: “I feel enslaved by the addiction to please everyone all the time,” “I think I have a drinking problem” or “I have a compulsion to customize holidays to my personal liking.”
2. Actions they could take in the coming year to cut those self-designed ropes of said enslavement.
3. Five things they are grateful for.
Sadly, my marriage to my first husband ended, but I’ll always be grateful to him for being a mensch and opening the door to a rich heritage I continue to celebrate.
Happy Pesach, everyone!
Ellen Snortland has gotten a little verklempt while writing this column for decades, and teaches creative writing. She can be reached at ellen@