No beings should be enslaved

By participating in a Seder we recall the injustice of slavery, Unfortunately, some 2,000 years after the time of Moses, slavery has not been eradicated in the world. The trafficking of women and children within domestic, agricultural and sex industries is an enduring reality. Anti-Slavery International estimates that there are currently 20 million people being held as slaves throughout the world. The most common form of modern slavery is debt bondage, in which a person is made to give their body as a condition of their loan repayment. Frequently, in order to afford the journey to “freedom,” these people pay with their life savings and go into debt to individuals who make promises they have no intention of keeping. Instead of opportunity, what the immigrants find when they arrive is bondage. These modern-day slaves live in all 50 states, working as farm hands, domestic servants, sweatshop and factory laborers, gardeners, restaurant and construction workers and prostitutes. “…we are living in the midst of a tragic paradox: no longer is there an underground network to guide slaves to freedom, but rather, there is an underground criminal network to entrap people and sell them into slavery.

Non-human beings are also enslaved. For example, most of the coconut that comes from Thailand (and many other places) is harvested using animal slaves. Adult macaque monkeys are shot, so that their children can be captured and trained from a young age to scale palm trees and twist free the coconuts. These monkeys have chains around their necks and are beaten to force them to do this. This is why the coconut used in this meal comes from sources that do not use animals to harvest it. But animal slavery is more insidious too – female cows are forcibly impregnated, their babies stolen from them and their milk confiscated for human profit and use. Female birds are forced through selective breading to produce eggs in numbers far exceeding what nature equipped their bodies to handle healthfully -- prolapsed uterus is common if allowed to live their natural lifespan, but usually their masters kill them first, when they are no longer profitable.

The Holocaust enslaved people too. Legal Scholar, Sherry Colb, is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. Professor Colb has written eloquently about how her family’s experience with the Holocaust has impacted her in her extraordinary essay, “Decoding, “Never Again.”

“I rarely even considered the possibility that my legal scholarship interests in criminal procedure, feminist theory, or evidence law had anything at all to do with my identity as the child of a Holocaust survivor and savior… I now understood… I was participating in doing to animals, [by consuming dairy and eggs] paralleled what I had long objected to men in patriarchal settings doing to women: treating females as reproductive machines, to be owned, violently used, sexually abused, and sometimes killed when they served no one’s purposes…I came to understand that the animal rights movement was a justice movement…When people say “Never Again” about the Holocaust,…I interpret the deep message of that plea to be that we must remember how ready people were to place the “other” outside their circle of compassion and moral concern and to demote that “other” to the status of a thing to be stripped of earthly possessions and then used and destroyed….we see this too, most dramatically, in our relationship with the “other” animals who, in virtue of their “other” DNA—regardless of what we learn about them (their use of tools, communication, maternal love, inter-species altruism, and the list goes on)—remain things for our use…People imagine that it is enough to say that they are “only animals,” just as others were content to invoke the fact that my people were “only Jews.”

Alex Hershaft, a Holocaust survivor himself has said, “My friends, the oppressive mindset is not about the victims, be they animals, Bosnians, Tutsis, Cambodian victims of Pol Pot, or European Jews. It’s about us. “Never again’ should not be about what others shouldn’t do to us, It should be about what we should not do to others. ‘Never again means that we must never perpetuate mass atrocities against other living sentient beings.”

Hundreds of thousands of children, some as young as 5, work in cocoa fields. This has been documented in Cameroon, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, (leading supplier, accounting for around 40% of production) Guinea and Nigeria they spray pesticides and apply fertilizers without protective gear, use sharp tools, like machetes, sustain injuries from transporting heavy loads beyond permissible weight, do strenuous work like felling trees, and clearing and burning vegetation. They are not accompanied by their parents, and are sometimes sold into this work.

The Passover Seder celebrates our liberation as a people from the oppressive slavery we experienced in ancient Egypt. As we celebrate this freedom during Passover, we are compelled to reflect on how freedom continues to be elusive for others. We each have the power and the obligation to free today’s slaves with a “strong hand and outstretched arm.” What does this mean to us? How can we do this? We must reach beyond ourselves, beyond the usual extent of our gaze. Our realm of influence, our chance to exert that divine capacity, is not an opportunity lurking in the distance—it is right here, within reach, just beyond us.

Slavery does not end through hope and passivity, but by powerful action. Our action to end slavery is not only important for our own time but also for its effects on future generations. This is our chance to shape the future. This is why have Fair Trade chocolate on the Seder plate. (Lift the Seder plate) “This is Fair Trade chocolate. Unlike most chocolate today, it is made without the labor of child slaves, and to remind us that slavery still exists today, and that we have the freedom and obligation to choose products made without slavery” Tonight we eat chocolate to remember all the trafficked and enslaved children in the Ivory Coast who toil in the cocoa fields,

haggadah Section: Maggid - Beginning