What makes this night different from all other nights?

Tonight is the first night of Passover. After I finish up my Feministing shift, my partner and I will drive to my grandparents’ house in Stamford. Before a kosher dinner free from leavened bread, we’ll take turns reading from long-worn paper copies of the haggadah, the scripted story of the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt. (My family uses the Maxwell House version. Not sure how a coffee manufacturer got into the Passover business.) The story takes us through the symbolism of the different parts of the seder plate, the table centerpiece: what does the bitter herb mean? the leg of lamb? And the haggadah prompts the youngest person at the table — still me, even at 25 — to ask and answer, again and again, year after year, “what makes the night different from all other nights?”

The scripted answers, sung in Hebrew, are mundane: We only eat matza tonight. We dip our vegetables in salt water. We recline at the table.

But there is also the larger answer: the two seder nights are the nights we set aside to sit down together and tell a story of our oppression and becoming free. The seder demands that we speak of the Hebrews with the first person plural — as in, “when we escaped from Egypt.” To do otherwise — to deny the fiction that you, perhaps an agnostic, blond New York-born Jew with a Catholic mother, fled through a magical sea with ancient Hebrews  — is explicitly prohibited. Only a wicked son, we are told, would use the second person “you.”

There’s a way to read the Passover ritual as a fetishization of oppression. Here is how we have suffered, repeated even as millenia go by. But this year I’ve been thinking about Passover in a different way. What makes this night different from all other nights? We dedicate an evening to sharing a story of hardship and survival — we honor generations for whom a story of fleeing genocide felt very real — and then we don’t need to tell that story the other 363 days a year. We set aside time to remember with purpose so we don’t have to study suffering at every dinner.

I’ve been thinking a lot about trauma politics this year. On my birthday, I wrote on this site about the precarious position of activists like me who come to a movement from deeply-felt, intimate experiences of the oppression the group seeks to eradicate — but who, over time, lose the visceral knowledge of that harm. Some social movements center on the repeated sharing of stories of harm and survival, such that belonging comes to hinge on your own willingness to dredge up personal history. That opportunity to invert the assumed dynamics of shame and expose injustice to the sanitizing light is not only politically expedient but affirming and cathartic. But sometimes the history is ancient, almost mythological, to the point that first person pronouns seem like a poor match. Did I really escape? Wasn’t that some very different person who somehow turned into me? 

To state the obvious: people want to do different things with their histories. For many, the idea of cabining the continued presence of a story is simply mpossible: the ferocity of the harm stems from its pervasiveness, its ability to sneak up at unexpected times. That is, after all, the whole idea of the trigger, and why I’m always hesitant to talk about the politics of being OK. But, speaking only for myself, I find some comfort in the seder model. We can bear witness to injustice and extend empathy to earlier iterations of ourselves who hurt terribly – all without letting them eclipse us. We can occasionally air those stories — a defiant refusal to forget or forgive — and then put them back, like the Maxwell House haggadahs stored for the year in the bottom kitchen drawer.


Washington, DC

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at During her four years at the site, she wrote about gender violence, reproductive justice, and education equity and ran the site's book review column. She is now a Skadden Fellow at the National Women's Law Center and also serves as the Board Chair of Know Your IX, a national student-led movement to end gender violence, which she co-founded and previously co-directed. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she is the co-editor of The Feminist Utopia Project: 57 Visions of a Wildly Better Future. She has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice at campuses across the country and on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, ESPN, and NPR.

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at

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