Four Questions About Asian Passover

On April 27, the Los Angeles hub of The LUNAR Collective will host its third annual Asian Passover seder.
April 18, 2024
David Chiu, Maetal Gerson and Vanessa Bloom Photo by Delia Bush

On April 27, the Los Angeles hub of The LUNAR Collective will host its third annual Asian Passover seder. A national organization of Asian American Jews, LUNAR cultivates connection, belonging and visibility through events and authentic digital storytelling.

“Some attendees have told me this is the only Passover experience they have or the first time they’ve felt fully welcome at a Seder,” David Chiu, LUNAR Los Angeles Community Leader for Passover, told the Journal. “Others, including myself, are deeply enmeshed in Jewish community with multiple Passover gatherings, and yet this one still feels really special.”  He added, “We’ll read from our Asian Jewish Haggadah, sing traditional songs and new Asian Jewish ones and engage in identity processing and sharing.”

As is traditional for this holiday, the Journal asked Four Questions of the three Los Angeles LUNAR community leaders: Chiu, Vanessa Bloom and Maetal Gerson. 

What makes Asian Passover so special? 

Chiu: It’s a chance to bring my full cultural self into the space, and there’s something intangibly liberating about that… a liberation that feels perfectly aligned with the themes of Pesach.

“I’ve been moved by the number of families, especially those with young kids, who have been attending. It’s a mixture of interfaith, multiracial, adoptee and Jew-by-choice.“ –Vanessa Bloom 

Bloom: In past years, I’d say the food, the music, the schmoozing and the warm atmosphere, and these are all beautiful displays of heritage and community. But more recently, I’ve been moved by the number of families, especially those with young kids, who have been attending. It’s a mixture of interfaith, multiracial, adoptee and Jew-by-choice. 

The most beautiful thing about seeing Asian Jewish babies and kids at these events is that I know their future is secured; they will grow up with a community that is for Asian Jews, by Asian Jews. They will see people like them and will never wonder if they’re “the only one” like I and so many others did growing up. For them, being Asian and Jewish will be the norm, not the exception.

Gerson: I find it really meaningful to see this Asian Jewish community develop over the past few years at these seders. Growing up, seders were always a big family event that we planned for months in advance. The same is true for the Asian Jewish seders, and I feel that we have been able to honor our traditions by creating a space where we can practice ritual and be in community together. It’s a time to reflect on what makes us similar and what makes us different, and to celebrate both things.

How do you combine your cultures?

Chiu: Over the years, the LUNAR Collective has written an Asian Jewish Haggadah. I’ve served on the creation committee two years in a row. We’ve had the expertise of Rabbi Mira Rivera, LUNAR’s rabbi-in-residence, but also a talented group of writers, artists and songwriters. The result has been something that follows tradition but also adds an extra kavanah from the perspective from the Asian American Jewish experience. For instance, imagine the Four Children as Four types of Asian Jews seeking welcome and embrace at the seder: The patrilineal Jew, the interfaith and mixed race Jew, the adoptee and the Jew-by-choice. This year, we get to add a fifth, as we have some attendees who grew up in historic Jewish communities in India. Where they grew up, being an Asian Jew was the norm. I’m so excited for them to share their traditions and songs at our seder as well. 

Gerson: The LUNAR seders give me a chance to express my identity as a member of an Asian community that is also Jewish. As a Chinese adoptee, I have not had as much experience combining cultures as I have had exploring my identity and how I might participate in communities that this identity connects to. 

What foods do you enjoy? Do you have a favorite recipe?

Bloom: I love Mediterranean food. My mom’s side is from the Balkans so we have a lot of fish, olives, salads, pita, stuffed peppers, etc., as well as classic Jewish favorites like matzah ball soup. I don’t have a favorite recipe, because I alternate between my mom’s sautéed fish or her brisket. 

Gerson: I love matzah ball soup. I don’t have a specific Asian Jewish recipe but have made cauliflower curry. I usually make chickpea curry with Garam Masala and curry powder but since chickpeas and ingredients in those spices are considered kitniyot, I change it for Pesach. Ingredients: 3 heads cauliflower chopped into bite-sized pieces and roasted, 2 cans of diced tomatoes, 1 whole tomato, 1 can coconut milk, half clove garlic diced, 1 tsp ginger grated, 1 tsp honey, 2 tbsp oil, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp brown sugar. Chop the onion, garlic and tomato. Put the onion in a pan until sizzling; then add garlic and diced tomato and cauliflower. Stir in grated ginger, honey, salt and brown sugar. Add canned tomatoes and coconut milk. Stir until fragrant. Serve as a side dish.

What music do you incorporate into your seder?

Chiu: This year we’ll be including more music, including a song by Asian Jewish rabbinical student Arielle Korman called “The Moment” and the “LUNAR Niggun” written by LUNAR’s co-founder and co-executive director Jenni Rudolph together with LUNAR community members Rachel Chang and Clare Bierman. We’ll also be singing traditional favorites like “Dayenu” and Debbie Friedman’s “Miriam’s Song.” 

The last two seders have really focused on the beautiful words of the Haggadah we created, and so have been very text-based. That’s been wonderful, but another huge part of the Passover experience has traditionally been music, and so this year we decided to carve out some more space for singing together. There’s something magical about the connection we form while joining our voices, whether you can carry a tune or not. And the act of connecting people in this amazing Jewish ritual we call Pesach … well, that feels like holy work and a holy experience.

Bloom: I like the classics such as Debbie Friedman. This year I’m adding Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” because I’ve learned it on the banjo, and I think now more than ever we need unity and also to question authority. 

Gerson: So much music! I grew up singing avadim hayinu, dayenu, mah nishtana, echad mi yodeah and chad gadya and more with my family around the dinner table. As the youngest child in my generation, I would always be the one to prepare mah nishtana. We used traditional Ashkenazi nusach (style of melody). When I left home, I started to join communities that changed the tunes or added new songs to the seder.  For this LUNAR Passover gathering, we are including songs written and sung by JOC and picking music that feels liberatory. We want to bring in melodies that are specific to this time of year, and incorporate new songs as well.

To learn more about The LUNAR Collective and their Asian Passover Seders, go to WeAreAsianJews.org.

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