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Pesach is many things to many people. Its customs are familiar and can be viewed with many lenses. The symbols are universal and are subject to almost any reading: social justice, class, the Holocaust, Middle East politics, American politics, agriculture, the environment, the list is endless, and the proliferation of interpretations is evidence that this is fertile territory.
A few things – maybe only two – about the holiday are unavoidable, as in, Pesach wouldn't be Pesach if not for these things. One is symbolic/metaphorical, the other is cultural. The most important theme of Pesach is freedom from slavery. The holiday commemorates the time when the Hebrews were freed from slavery in Egypt. We eat unleavened bread, which is cheap road food. The charoset symbolizes mortar used by the slaves to make bricks. Every symbol is meant to remind us that these people were slaves. Slavery – actual, physical forced labor – provides a vivid frame of reference to talk about all other kinds of oppression: colonialism, the 1%, governments, mental illness, bullies, crime, the criminal justice system, corporate welfare. Pesach is the holiday where we openly celebrate the oppressed, the underdog. So, unlike other more nationalistic holidays like Hanukah, Pesach is really a day for us to remember the oppressed.
The cultural aspect of the holiday that is unavoidable is that it is Jewish. For most non-practicing, non-believing Jews, Pesach is the one annual event where we remember our Jewishness. We observe the customs. We sing in Hebrew. We eat traditional food. We inhabit the world of our ancestors, both known and unknown, recent and ancient.
All seders are the same at their core, and every seder is unique. Seders are both modular and constant. They have a dual nature. Seder means "order," implying that there are rules, but the order goes only so far. This is a holiday that celebrates freedom after all. So interpret each ritual and symbol in your own way.
Baruch Atah Adonai, eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu lirdof tzedek
Brucha Yah Shechinah, eloheinu Malkat ha-olam, asher kid’shatnu b’mitzvotayha vitzivatnu lirdof tzedek
Blessed is the Source, who shows us paths to holiness, and commands us to pursue justice.
Calligraphy by: Ruben Shimonov
Prayer for a Pandemic
(We gratefully acknowledge this contribution from Claudia Schaefer)
May we who must inconveniently shelter in place
Remember those who have neither shelter not place
May we who are forced to keep a social distance for weeks
Remember those whose distance from fresh produce or decent health care is a daily reality
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between medicine and rent.
May we who have to cancel pleasure travel
Remember those who have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
As fear grips our country
Let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other
Let us find ways to be the loving embrace to our neighbors.
While our tradition applies specific meaning to the four cups of wine found within the Passover seder, many modern Haggadot have begun to reinterpret the original four cups.
The four cups are derived from four expressions of redemption found in Exodus 6:6-7: “I will bring you out;” “I will deliver you;” “I will redeem you;” and “I will take you.” Due to the positive, redemptive focus of each phrase, each cup could come to represent current groups that need to be “brought out, delivered, redeemed, or taken out.” A short teaching can take place before each cup is blessed. Groups for consideration include: refugees and slaves, victims of domestic violence, victims of sexual trafficking, and the poor and impoverished.
Rabbis for Human Rights suggests the following four interpretations for the four cups:
The First Cup: Freedom in America
As we lift the first cup, we envision an America – the “land of the free” – where everyone has a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of him/herself and of his/her family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services (from Article 25 of the Declaration of Human Rights).
The Second Cup: Deliverance in Israel
As we lift the second cup, we envision a modern day Israel, that fosters the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants. We envision an Israel that is “based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel,” an Israel that “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants” (from the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, 1948).
The Third Cup: Redemption from Overwork and Underwork
As we lift the third cup, we envision a world where everyone has work and, without any discrimination, receives equal pay for equal work. We envision a world where everyone also can enjoy rest and leisure, and periodic holidays with pay (adapted from Articles 23 and 24 of the Declaration of Human Rights).
The Fourth Cup: Liberation from Slavery All Over the World
As we lift the fourth cup, we envision a world where no one is held in slavery or servitude… a world without sweatshop laborers, where all workers are able to make a fair wage, regardless of which country they are born into. We envision a world where all products are fairly traded, and no one country or financial institution can dictate trade policies (adapted from Article 4 of the Declaration of Human Rights).
A Fifth Cup
Some Haggadot include a “fifth” cup in the Seder as an opportunity for additional readings or prayers. This tradition dates back to the early rabbis and commentators, including Alfasi and Maimonides, who discussed this possible addition to the Seder. A Fifth Cup enables us to call attention to a current social justice issue or recognize a recent victory with regards to a prior injustice. This fifth cup could be passed around the table and filled with coins to be donated to tzedakah. An additional reading with specific hopes or social action goals (like a renewed focus on the homeless or implementation of a new, long-term tzedakah project) for the coming months can be included at this point.
Discussion: As wine can serve as a symbol of abundance and luxury, the fifth cup is a perfect opportunity for a discussion on privilege and poverty: Some Jews experience a high degree of privilege. Others are less privileged. A recent study points to 100,000 Jews living below the poverty line in New York City. What are the sources of our privilege? Has your family’s economic status changed over the last few generations? In what ways? What does it mean to experience the Haggadah from a place of privilege? From a place of poverty? All are invited to tell a short story of an ancestor who faced economic hardship, or came up against an economic system that did not acknowledge their humanity.
All Jewish celebrations, from holidays to weddings, include wine as a symbol of our joy – not to mention a practical way to increase that joy. The seder starts with wine and then gives us three more opportunities to refill our cup and drink.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who creates the fruit of the vine.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who chose us from all peoples and languages, and sanctified us with commandments, and lovingly gave to us special times for happiness, holidays and this time of celebrating the Holiday of Matzah, the time of liberation, reading our sacred stories, and remembering the Exodus from Egypt. For you chose us and sanctified us among all peoples. And you have given us joyful holidays. We praise God, who sanctifies the people of Israel and the holidays.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam,
she-hechiyanu v’key’manu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything,
who has kept us alive, raised us up, and brought us to this happy moment.
Drink the first glass of wine!
To wash your hands, you don’t need soap, but you do need a cup to pour water over your hands. Pour water on each of your hands three times, alternating between your hands. If the people around your table don’t want to get up to walk all the way over to the sink, you could pass a pitcher and a bowl around so everyone can wash at their seats… just be careful not to spill!
Too often during our daily lives we don’t stop and take the moment to prepare for whatever it is we’re about to do.
Let's pause to consider what we hope to get out of our evening together tonight. Go around the table and share one hope or expectation you have for tonight's seder.
Passover, like many of our holidays, combines the celebration of an event from our Jewish memory with a recognition of the cycles of nature. As we remember the liberation from Egypt, we also recognize the stirrings of spring and rebirth happening in the world around us. The symbols on our table bring together elements of both kinds of celebration.
We now take a vegetable, representing our joy at the dawning of spring after our long, cold winter. Most families use a green vegetable, such as parsley or celery, but some families from Eastern Europe have a tradition of using a boiled potato since greens were hard to come by at Passover time. Whatever symbol of spring and sustenance we’re using, we now dip it into salt water, a symbol of the tears our ancestors shed as slaves. Before we eat it, we recite a short blessing:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree ha-adama.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who creates the fruits of the earth.
We look forward to spring and the reawakening of flowers and greenery. They haven’t been lost, just buried beneath the snow, getting ready for reappearance just when we most needed them.
We all have aspects of ourselves that sometimes get buried under the stresses of our busy lives. What has this winter taught us? What elements of our own lives do we hope to revive this spring?
Breaking the matzah
There are three pieces of matzah stacked on the table. We now break the middle matzah into two pieces. The host should wrap up the larger of the pieces and, at some point between now and the end of dinner, hide it. This piece is called the afikomen, literally "dessert." After dinner, the guests will have to hunt for the afikomen.
Reader 1: Ha lachma anya—this is the bread of affliction. At the seder we begin as slaves. We eat matzah, the bread of affliction, which leaves us hungry and longing for redemption. It reminds us of a time when we couldn’t control what food was available to us, but ate what we could out of necessity. The matzah enables us to taste slavery— to imagine what it means to be denied our right to live free and healthy lives.
But, while we will soon enjoy a large meal and end the seder night as free people, millions of people around the world can not leave the affliction of hunger behind. Let us awaken to their cries and declare:
Kol dichfin yeitei v’yeichol—let all who are hungry, come and eat. As we sit at our seder and contemplate our people’s transition from slavery to freedom, let us hope for a time when all who are hungry will eat as free people. Let us pray:
Let all people gain autonomy over their sources of sustenance.
Let local farms flourish and local economies strengthen.
Let exploitation of natural resources cease so that the land may nourish its inhabitants.
Let communities bolster themselves against the destruction wrought by flood and drought.
Let our world leaders recognize food as a basic human right and implement policies and programs that put an end to world hunger.
Hashata avdei—this year we are still slaves. Leshanah haba’ah b’nei chorin—next year we will be free people.
This year, hunger and malnutrition are still the greatest risks to good health around the world. Next year, may the bread of affliction be simply a symbol, and may all people enjoy the bread of plenty, the bread of freedom.
Pour the second glass of wine for everyone.
The Haggadah doesn’t tell the story of Passover in a linear fashion. We don’t hear of Moses being found by the daughter of Pharaoh – actually, we don’t hear much of Moses at all. Instead, we get an impressionistic collection of songs, images, and stories of both the Exodus from Egypt and from Passover celebrations through the centuries. Some say that minimizing the role of Moses keeps us focused on the miracles God performed for us. Others insist that we keep the focus on the role that every member of the community has in bringing about positive change.
Child labor in cocoa fields has been documented in the following countries: Cameroon, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, (leading supplier, accounting for around 40% of production) Guinea and Nigeria.
Hundreds of thousands of children work in cocoa fields, and many of them are exposed to hazardous conditions, where they:
- Spray pesticides and apply fertilizers without protective gear
- Use sharp tools, like machetesSustain injuries from transporting heavy loads beyond permissible weight
- Do strenuous work like felling trees, and clearing and burning vegetation
These children are treated with the “worst forms of child labor” (defined by the International Labor Organization), including
-mforms of slavery, the sale of a child and
- trafficking of children (recruiting children to work far away from families)
- debt bondage
- Most children who travel to work in cocoa fields are not accompanied by their parents
- Over 40% of children working in cocoa fields do not attend school
- Children as young as five (5) years old work on cocoa farms
(Purchase Fair Trade Kosher for Passover chocolate through: http://fairtradejudaica.org/make-a-difference/fair-trade-jewish-holidays/fair-trade-your-seder/fair-trade-chocolate-you-can-eat-on-passover/)
The Haggadah reminds us that “we were slaves to Pharoah in Mitzrayim, and then Adonai brought us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” We were freed from slavery, yet slavery is not an institution only of the past; it still exists among us.
The Passover Seder celebrates our liberation as a people from the oppressive slavery we experienced in ancient Egypt. It recounts the story of the Jewish nation emerging from the chains of forced labor and beginning the journey towards freedom. As we celebrate this freedom during Passover, we are compelled to reflect on how freedom continues to be elusive for other people. Our history of slavery awakens us to the plight of the stranger, and to the alarming occurrence of modern day trafficking and slavery. For how can we celebrate our freedom, without recognizing that so many individuals still have not obtained theirs?
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.
Seder Plate: Adding a bar of Fair Trade chocolate on the Seder plate. Lift the Seder plate and introduces all the foods, adding: “This is Fair Trade chocolate. Unlike most chocolate today, it is made without the labor of child slaves in the Ivory Coast. It is on our Seder plate to remind us that slavery still exists today, and that we have the freedom and obligation to choose chocolate not made with child labor.” Tonight we eat chocolate to remember all the trafficked and enslaved children in the Ivory Coast who toil in the cocoa fields, harvesting the cocoa pods from which our favorite chocolates are made. For Jews, the descendants of slave laborers in Egypt in Auschwitz, such profit should never be sweet. We eat Fair Trade chocolate, the only chocolate that is free of child labor. We take the sweetness of this chocolate as a symbol of resistance and the possibility of liberation for all.
(Text taken from: http://fairtradejudaica.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/HaggadahSupplement2012.pdf)
To purchase Frair Trade Kosher for Passover Chocolate go to: http://shop.equalexchange.coop/pesach
STANDING WITH FARMWORKERS
Supporting Those Working to End Modern-Day Slavery
PART 1 Please read this towards the beginning of the seder.
The seder begins: “Let all who are in need, come and share in the Passover meal.” In this year of struggle for workers’ rights, we want to symbolically welcome members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a human rights organization made up of Florida farmworkers, primarily tomato harvesters, to share in our seder. Before we begin to tell our story of the journey to freedom, we take a moment to hear a voice from this current fight for freedom, symbolizing their presence by placing a tomato on the seder plate. Until we know that the food that we eat isn’t tainted by forced labor and exploitation, none of us is truly free.
“When you’re there, [enslaved,] you feel like the world is ending. You feel absolutely horrible... Once you’re back here on the outside, it’s hard to explain. Everything’s different now. It was like coming out of the darkness into the light. Just imagine if you were reborn. That’s what it’s like.” — Adan Garcia Orozco, farmworker
PART 2 This can be read during the Rabban Gamliel section of the seder, when you hold up and explain each of the traditional items on the seder plate.
Why is there a tomato on the seder plate? This tomato brings our attention to the oppression and liberation of farmworkers who harvest fruits and vegetables here in the United States. And it reminds of us of our power to help create justice.
A tomato purchased in the United States between November and May was most likely picked by a worker in Florida. On this night when we remember the Jewish journey from slavery to freedom, we remember numerous cases of modern slavery that have been found in the Florida tomato industry. The tomato on our seder plate might have been picked by someone who has been enslaved.
Slavery is just the extreme end of a continuum of abuse; perhaps this tomato was picked by someone facing other abusive working conditions, such as wage theft, violence, sexual harassment, exposure to dangerous pesticides, or poverty level wages—just fifty cents for every 32-lb bucket of tomatoes picked and hauled—that have not changed for more than 30 years.
But a transformation is underway. Since 1993, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a farmworker organization, has been organizing for justice in the fields. Together with student groups, secular human rights organizations, and religious groups like T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, they have convinced 11 major corporations, such as McDonald’s and Trader Joe’s, to join the Fair Food Program, a historic partnership between workers, growers and corporations. Not only does the Fair Food program raise the wages of tomato workers, it also requires companies to source tomatoes from growers that agree to a code of conduct in the fields which includes a zero tolerance policy for forced labor and sexual harassment. Since 2011, when more than 90% of Florida’s tomato growers began to implement the agreement, over $8 million has been distributed from participating retailers to workers.
But the resistance of holdout retailers, such as major supermarkets and Wendy’s, threatens to undermine these fragile gains, as they provide a market to farms to continue abusive practices.
PART 3: NEXT YEAR, JUSTICE AND FREEDOM
This can be read at any point towards the end of the Seder, after the meal.
This Pesach, while commemorating our own freedom from bondage, we remind ourselves of our responsibility to end slavery as it exists today and our power to create justice when we join together. We commit ourselves to standing with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, so that next Passover, the tomato on our seder plate might represent workers who have a liberation story to tell of their own.
Ways to take action:
• Learn more about the Campaign for Fair Food through online educational materials.
• Speak up at your local Wendy’s, Stop & Shop, Giant, Publix or Kroger’s! You can download a letter to give to your store manager or send a letter to the corporation who owns your neighborhood store.
• Organize an action! Work with the CIW to plan a demonstration calling on your grocery store or Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program and commit to buying from farms that comply with the Fair Food Code of Conduct.
• Educate your community! Use educational materials—articles, fliers, and videos—to bring this campaign to your synagogue or school
For more information and materials for taking action, visit:
www.ciw-online.org and www.truah.org
The formal telling of the story of Passover is framed as a discussion with lots of questions and answers. The tradition that the youngest person asks the questions reflects the centrality of involving everyone in the seder. The rabbis who created the set format for the seder gave us the Four Questions to help break the ice in case no one had their own questions. Asking questions is a core tradition in Jewish life. If everyone at your seder is around the same age, perhaps the person with the least seder experience can ask them – or everyone can sing them all together.
מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילות
Ma nishtana halaila hazeh mikol haleilot?
Why is this night different from all other nights?
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָֽנוּ אוֹכלין חָמֵץ וּמַצָּה הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלּוֹ מצה
Shebichol haleilot anu ochlin chameitz u-matzah. Halaila hazeh kulo matzah.
On all other nights we eat both leavened bread and matzah.
Tonight we only eat matzah.
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָֽנוּ אוֹכְלִין שְׁאָר יְרָקוֹת הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה מָרוֹר
Shebichol haleilot anu ochlin shi’ar yirakot haleila hazeh maror.
On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables,
but tonight we eat bitter herbs.
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אֵין אָֽנוּ מַטְבִּילִין אֲפִילוּ פַּֽעַם אחָת הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה שְׁתֵּי פְעמים
Shebichol haleilot ain anu matbilin afilu pa-am echat. Halaila hazeh shtei fi-amim.
On all other nights we aren’t expected to dip our vegetables one time.
Tonight we do it twice.
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָֽנוּ אוֹכְלִין בֵּין יוֹשְׁבִין וּבֵין מְסֻבִּין. :הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלָּֽנוּ מְסֻבין
Shebichol haleilot anu ochlin bein yoshvin uvein m’subin. Halaila hazeh kulanu m’subin.
On all other nights we eat either sitting normally or reclining.
Tonight we recline.
Mah nishtanah ha-lailah ha-zeh mi-kol ha-lailot?
Why is this night different from all other nights?
We know the traditional answers to this question: On this night, we eat matzah and bitter herbs, we dip and we recline. But this is not all, or even most, of what Passover is about.
On most other nights, we allow the news of tragedy in distant places to pass us by.
We succumb to compassion fatigue – aware that we cannot possibly respond to every injustice that arises around the world.
On this night, we are reminded that our legacy as the descendants of slaves creates in us a different kind of responsibility – we are to protect the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Let us add a fifth question to this year’s seder. Let us ask ourselves,
What must be done?
This year, this Passover, let us recommit to that sacred responsibility to protect the stranger, particularly those vulnerable strangers in faraway places whose suffering is so often ignored.
Let us infuse the rituals of the seder with action:
When tasting the matzah, the bread of poverty, let us find ways to help the poor and the hungry.
When eating the maror, let us commit to help those whose lives are embittered by disease.
When dipping to commemorate the blood that protected our ancestors against the Angel of Death, let us pursue protection for those whose lives are threatened by violence and conflict.
When reclining in celebration of our freedom, let us seek opportunities to help those who are oppressed.
At this season of liberation, join us in working for the liberation of all people. Help us respond to the seder’s questions with action and justice.
The answers to the first three questions are drawn from Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010). Excerpts are cited with “NJC” and the page number.
Why does America have the highest incarceration rate of any developed nation in the world?
Many factors have increased the incarceration rate, including the War on Drugs, the imposition of mandatory minimum sentencing, and privatization of prisons, which creates financial incentives for keeping people in prison.
“The impact of the drug war has been astounding. In less than thirty years, the U.S. penal population exploded from around 300,000 to more than 2 million, with drug convictions accounting for the majority of the increase. The United States now by far has the highest incarceration rate in the world.” (NJC, p. 6)
Incarceration is a tool of social control.
“[D]rug crime was declining, not rising, when a drug war was declared in 1972. From a historical perspective, however, the lack of correlation between crime and punishment is nothing new. Sociologists have frequently observed that governments use punishment primarily as a tool of social control, and thus the extent or severity of punishment is often unrelated to actual crime patterns.” (NJC, p. 7)
Who is being locked up in the United States?
There is a strong racial dimension to the pattern of incarceration.
“No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. In Washington, D.C., our nation’s capitol, it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison. Similar rates of incarceration can be found in black communities across America.
“These stark racial disparities cannot be explained by rates of drug crime. Studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates . . . This is not what one would guess, however, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, which are overflowing with black and brown drug offenders.” (NJC, p. 6)
The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. (Deuteronomy 26:6, Haggadah)
Two Personal Stories
Michelle Alexander describes two experiences of harsh treatment in the criminal justice system:
“Imagine you are Emma Faye Stewart, a thirty-year-old, single African-American mother of two who was arrested as part of a drug sweep in Hearne, Texas. All but one of those people arrested were African- American. You are innocent. After a week in jail, you have no one to care for your two small children and are eager to get home. Your court-appointed attorney urges you to plead guilty to a drug distribution charge, saying the prosecutor has offered probation. You refuse, steadfastly proclaiming your innocence. Finally, after almost a month in jail, you decide to plead guilty so you can return home to your children. Unwilling to risk a trial and years of imprisonment, you are sentenced to ten years probation and ordered to pay $1,000 in fines, as well as court and probation costs. You are also now branded a drug felon. You are no longer eligible for food stamps; you may be discriminated against in employment; you cannot vote for at least twelve years; and you are about to be evicted from public housing. Once homeless, your children will be taken away from you and put in foster care.
“A judge eventually dismisses all cases against the defendants who did not plead guilty. At trial, the judge finds that the entire sweep was based on the testimony of a single informant who lied to the prosecution. You, however, are still a drug felon, homeless, and desperate to regain custody of your children.
“Now place yourself in the shoes of Clifford Runoalds, another African-American victim of the Hearne drug bust. You returned home to Bryan, Texas, to attend the funeral of your eighteen-month-old daughter. Before the funeral services begin, the police show up and handcuff you. You beg the officers to let you take one last look at your daughter before she is buried. The police refuse. You are told by prosecutors that you are needed to testify against one of the defendants in a recent drug bust. You deny witnessing any drug transaction; you don’t know what they are talking about. Because of your refusal to cooperate, you are indicted on felony charges. After a month of being held in jail, the charges against you are dropped. You are technically free, but as a result of your arrest and period of incarceration, you lose your job, your apartment, your furniture, and your car. Not to mention the chance to say good-bye to your baby girl.” (NJC, pp. 97-98)
Why are so many African Americans, as well as other people of color, being treated like criminals?
Mass incarceration is a tool to reinforce a racial caste system in the United States.
“Slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave), and Jim Crow defined what it meant to be black (a second-class citizen). Today mass incarceration defines the meaning of blackness in America: black people, especially black men, are criminals. That is what it means to be black.
“The temptation is to insist that black men ‘choose’ to be criminals; the system does not make them criminals, at least not in the way that slavery made blacks slaves or Jim Crow made them second-class citizens. The myth of choice here is seductive, but it should be resisted. African Americans are not significantly more likely to use or sell prohibited drugs than whites, but they are made criminals at drastically higher rates for precisely the same conduct. In fact, studies suggest that white professionals may be the most likely of any group to have engaged in illegal drug activity in their lifetime, yet they are the least likely to be made criminals. . . . Black people have been made criminals by the War on Drugs to a degree that dwarfs its effect on other racial and ethnic groups, especially whites. And the process of making them criminals has produced racial stigma. (NJC, pp. 196-197)
Why do we, as Jews and friends of Jews, ask these questions on this seder night?
We cried out to the Eternal One, the God of our ancestors, who heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. (Deuteronomy 26:7, Haggadah)
There are Jews of color who have personal stories to tell about experiencing racism; there are Jews of all colors who have personal stories to tell about incarceration and the criminal justice system. But the issue affects us all, whether or not we have personal stories to tell. As the people of the Exodus, we are called to witness the suffering of our neighbors, to open ours eyes and to cry out in the name of justice.
Then the Eternal One freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and signs and portents. (Deuteronomy 26:8, Haggadah)
Dismantling the system of mass incarceration and creating a system of justice and dignity for all Americans calls for wisdom, perseverance, hard work, and faith. We must raise our voices and build alliances. We pray for the ability to see clearly, to act with compassion, and to forgive ourselves for the ways we have unknowingly been agents of oppression. We pray for courage, guidance, and strength as we celebrate Passover, our festival of freedom.
We read together the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, from his letter from a Birmingham, Alabama jail on April 16, 1963:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
As we tell the story, we think about it from all angles. Our tradition speaks of four different types of children who react individually to the Passover Seder. It is our job to make our story accessible to all the members of our community:
WHAT DOES THE WISE CHILD SAY? The wise child asks, What are the testimonies and laws which God commanded you? You must teach this child the rules of observing the holiday of Passover.
WHAT DOES THE WICKED CHILD SAY? The wicked child asks, What does this service mean to you? To you and not to himself! Because he takes himself out of the community and misses the point, say to him: “It is because of what God did for me in taking me out of Egypt.” Me, not him. Had that child been there, he would have been left behind.
WHAT DOES THE SIMPLE CHILD SAY? The simple child asks, What is this? To this child, answer plainly: “With a strong hand God took us out of Egypt, where we were slaves.”
WHAT ABOUT THE CHILD WHO DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO ASK A QUESTION? Help this child ask. Start telling the story: “It is because of what God did for me in taking me out of Egypt.”
Use this piece in tandem with the telling of the Exodus story. Think about the connection between the Jewish story of Exodus from Egypt to more contemporary examples of persecution and forced migration. How did the formation of the territory now known as the United States depend upon the forced migration of people already residing on the land?
The Hebrews’ Exodus from Egypt is a climactic moment in the Passover story. After suffering for generations as slaves in Egypt, the Hebrews cross the Sea of Reeds and head into the desert with only matzah, the bread of affliction. Led by Miriam and Moses, the community seeks its freedom from slavery, oppression, and violence by wandering in the desert for forty years. Though this is a long struggle, the Hebrews’ persistence leads them to the Promised Land.
More contemporary examples demonstrate that forced migrations are not a thing of the past. In 1863 and ’64, the United States government forcibly removed the Navajo Nation from its ancestral homeland in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. Prior to this forced move, the US Army went to war with the Navajo and Apache tribes, destroying much of their community. The US Army, led by Kit Carson, then forced 8,500 Navajo people to march 400 miles to their internment in Bosque Redondo, a forty square-mile area. This is now known as the Navajo Long Walk.
Over 200 people died after walking through the harsh winter for two months. Many more perished after arriving in the barren Bosque Redondo reservation, where disease, crop failure, and poor irrigation made survival almost impossible. The Navajos also had their own “bread of affliction.” They were given meager rations of only flour and coffee beans, but because the coffee beans were unfamiliar to this community, they tried to boil them and starved.
After the Navajo were recognized as a sovereign nation under the Treaty of 1868, they returned to their homeland on the Arizona- New Mexico border (one of very few tribes who were allowed to do so). Though their lands were greatly reduced by the US Army and government, the Navajo worked hard to take care of their livestock and rebuild their community.
Can you draw parallels between the Jewish Exodus from Egypt and the Navajo Long Walk? What are the key similarities and differences between these histories? What do you know about the long-term effects of forced migration and persecution on contemporary American Indian communities?
As we observe Passover to commemorate the hardships of our ancestors, how can we act in solidarity with American Indian communities’ histories of persecution, forced migration, and genocide?
This papercut is about redemption — which is, of course, more than no longer being slaves; it is being truly free people, owning our destiny and moving forward. I have represented freedom with outstretched hands, backed with numerous cut-up comic book pieces featuring people of many races and backgrounds — because none of us can be truly free until we are all free. The background is composed of cut-up and re-stitched pieces from the “Blackest Night” comic book series, in which heroes are killed and brought back in an existence that mimics life but isn’t; they are controlled by an evil force that uses them against one another. Freedom is more than action; it is owning ourselves and our intentions and being free to serve God and ourselves.
Copyright by Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik. This work is shared here for use as part of Haggadot.com, and is not to be otherwise distributed or used without permission of the artist.
Let us all refill our cups.
[Take turns reading. Each person is invited to read a grouped set of lines - or to pass.]
Tonight we drink four cups of the fruit of the vine.
There are many explanations for this custom.
They may be seen as symbols of various things:
the four corners of the earth, for freedom must live everywhere;
the four seasons of the year, for freedom's cycle must last through all the seasons;
or the four matriarchs: Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel.
A full cup of wine symbolizes complete happiness.
The triumph of Passover is diminished by the sacrifice of many human lives
when ten plagues were visited upon the people of Egypt.
In the story, the plagues that befell the Egyptians resulted from the decisions of tyrants,
but the greatest suffering occurred among those who had no choice but to follow.
It is fitting that we mourn their loss of life, and express our sorrow over their suffering.
For as Jews and as Humanists we cannot take joy in the suffering of others.
Therefore, let us diminish the wine in our cups
as we recall the ten plagues that befell the Egyptian people.
As we recite the name of each plague, in English and then in Hebrew,
please dip a finger in your wine and then touch your plate to remove the drop.
Blood - Dam (Dahm)
Frogs - Ts'phardea (Ts'phar-DEH-ah)
Gnats - Kinim (Kih-NEEM)
Flies - Arov (Ah-ROV)
Cattle Disease - Dever (DEH-vehr)
Boils - Sh'hin (Sh'-KHEEN)
Hail - Barad (Bah-RAHD)
Locusts - `Arbeh (Ar-BEH)
Darkness - Hoshekh (KHO-shekh)
Death of the Firstborn - Makkat B'khorot (Ma-katB'kho-ROT)
[Take turns reading. Each person is invited to read a grouped set of lines - or to pass.]
In the same spirit, our celebration today also is shadowed
by our awareness of continuing sorrow and oppression in all parts of the world.
Ancient plagues are mirrored in modern tragedies.
In our own time, as in ancient Egypt, ordinary people suffer and die
as a result of the actions of the tyrants who rule over them.
While we may rejoice in the defeat of tyrants in our own time,
we must also express our sorrow at the suffering of the many innocent people
who had little or no choice but to follow.
As the pain of others diminishes our joys,
let us once more diminish the ceremonial drink of our festival
as we together recite the names of these modern plagues:
Pollution of the Earth Indifference to Suffering
Let us sing a song expressing our hope for a better world.
The traditional Haggadah lists ten plagues that afflicted the Egyptians. We live in a very different world, but Passover is a good time to remember that, even after our liberation from slavery in Egypt, there are still many challenges for us to meet. Here are ten “modern plagues”:
Inequity - Access to affordable housing, quality healthcare, nutritious food, good schools, and higher education is far from equal. The disparity between rich and poor is growing, and opportunities for upward mobility are limited.
Entitlement - Too many people consider themselves entitled to material comfort, economic security, and other privileges of middle-class life without hard work.
Fear - Fear of “the other” produces and reinforces xenophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, antisemitism, homophobia, and transphobia.
Greed - Profits are a higher priority than the safety of workers or the health of the environment. The top one percent of the American population controls 42% of the country’s financial wealth, while corporations send jobs off-shore and American workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively is threatened.
Distraction - In this age of constant connectedness, we are easily distracted by an unending barrage of information, much of it meaningless, with no way to discern what is important.
Distortion of reality - The media constructs and society accepts unrealistic expectations, leading to eating disorders and an unhealthy obsession with appearance for both men and women.
Unawareness - It is easy to be unaware of the consequences our consumer choices have for the environment and for workers at home and abroad. Do we know where or how our clothes are made? Where or how our food is produced? The working conditions? The impact on the environment?
Discrimination - While we celebrate our liberation from bondage in Egypt, too many people still suffer from discrimination. For example, blacks in the United States are imprisoned at more than five times the rate of whites, and Hispanics are locked up at nearly double the white rate. Women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. At 61 cents to the dollar, the disparity is even more shocking in Jewish communal organization.
Silence - Every year, 4.8 million cases of domestic violence against American women are reported. We do not talk about things that are disturbing, such as rape, sex trafficking, child abuse, domestic violence, and elder abuse, even though they happen every day in our own communities.
Feeling overwhelmed and disempowered - When faced with these modern “plagues,” how often do we doubt or question our own ability to make a difference? How often do we feel paralyzed because we do not know what to do to bring about change?
The learning we do at AVODAH asks us to question previously-held assumptions, and to challenge ourselves to explore perspectives with which we may not agree. Going into those uncomfortable spaces is often the core of meaningful learning. I encourage you to embrace those difficult moments, should they arise as you study this supplement. The seder is a time for wrestling with deep questions; let our questions be a part of your process.
With blessings for a Passover of learning, joy, and a renewed effort to build a more just world,
Cheryl Cook Executive Director, AVODAH
Hunger By Jenny Waxberg and Erin Butler
Background: One of the most common assumptions is that if someone is hungry, that person does not have a job and is living on the streets. What most people don’t realize is that circumstances can change and anyone can experience hunger at some point. It could be the family with two incomes that unexpectedly must get by on one income. It could be the household with mounting medical bills that make it difficult to make ends meet at the end of the month. It could be the senior on a fixed income after a lifetime of hard work. Hunger is a silent but growing epidemic.
People live in food insecure homes if they do not always know where to find the next meal. Many citizens turning to soup kitchens and food pantries are employed but their wages cannot keep up with the cost of living.
Discuss: What does hunger look like to you?
A Kavanah/Intention: May we all answer the Passover call, ‘May all who are hungry come eat’ by educating ourselves about hunger in America and supporting work to alleviate hunger.
Jenny Waxberg and Erin Butler were AVODAH Fellows in 2014 and work at City Harvest in New York.
Lack of Affordable Housing
by Yonah Liberman
Background: The plague of unaffordable housing and rampant homelessness is nothing new. The problems facing the tenants I work with — leaky ceilings, no heat or hot water, patch repairs — are problems that people have faced for centuries. What’s new is the way intentional neglect has reared its ugly head. As a tenant organizer working with people living in multifamily buildings that are in foreclosure, I’ve seen firsthand how landlords get away with it. Private equity firms come together and take out enormous mortgages from banks to buy up millions of dollars worth of property. The “business model” revolves around harassing tenants into leaving their homes so landlords can raise the rents and cut maintenance costs. When people refuse to leave their homes, landlords can’t raise the rents, and they can’t pay back the bank. The bank sells the buildings to the highest bidder, unless tenants get organized and put pressure on it to sell their buildings at a lower price to a responsible investor. That’s the goal I and the tenants I work with strive for everyday.
Discuss: What does the concept of “housing as a human right” mean to you?
A Kavanah/Intention: I intend to fight for the right for all people to housing by holding my elected officials to their promises to build and preserve affordable housing. And if I am living in an urban community, I intend to deepen my understanding of my neighborhood and how I can keep it affordable for my neighbors.
Yonah Lieberman was an AVODAH corps member in 2013-2014 and worked as a tenant organizer at Urban Homesteading Assistance Board in New York.
by Emily Unger
Background: Last week at work, one of my clients called me. He sounded exhausted and unwell. He had suddenly become very sick, he told me. He thought that he needed to go to the hospital. But he was afraid because he couldn’t afford to pay a huge bill. I counseled him that the most he would have to pay for a short hospitalization was the cost of his insurance deductible, but even this amount — over $1,000 — was more than his entire monthly income. He had been putting off medical treatment for days out of fear for the cost.
I eventually persuaded my client to see a doctor, but every day, countless others are faced with a similar choice. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most Americans who once had no health insurance will now be covered. However, many states still refuse to expand their Medicaid programs, leaving millions of the poorest Americans completely uninsured. Moreover, many barriers — unaffordably high co-pays and deductibles, lack of cultural competency among healthcare providers, inaccessibility of health care facilities to people with disabilities — remain, preventing even those with basic health insurance from receiving needed medical care.
Discuss: Share a time when you had to rely on your medical insurance and consider what would have happened had you not been covered.
A Kavanah/Intention: May our healthcare system provide the best possible healing to all those in need, and enable our providers to be the best possible healers.
Emily Unger was an AVODAH corps member in 2013-2014 and worked as an AmeriCorps Paralegal at the New York Legal Assistance Group
The Threat to Voting Rights byAmelia van Iwaarden
Background: Bend the Arc launched our Voting Rights Campaign to mobilize the Jewish community to support the passage of the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA). This bipartisan bill includes modern protections against discrimination in voting in every part of the country. Last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder scrapped the enforcement mechanisms in the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, which provided protections against discriminatory voting laws at the state and local levels. Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, we have already seen a flurry of state and local efforts that will make it difficult for communities of color, women, first-time voters, the elderly, and those living in poverty to cast their vote. In my work, I am helping to develop leaders — both organizers in diverse religious communities, and Jewish leaders in social justice organizations — who are addressing systemic issues of racial and economic injustice of which voter suppression is a symptom.
Discuss: There are some who say that there is no need for Jews to be involved in this work, because most American Jews do not belong to the groups experiencing discrimination. Why is it important for Jews to be in this fight as Jews? What role do you think we can play as Jews in protecting voting rights for all Americans?
A Kavanah/Intention: Exodus 22:20 tells us “ You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” This Passover, as we celebrate our freedom, let us recommit to ending oppression wherever we see it.
Amelia van Iwaarden was an AVODAH Fellow in 2014, working at Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice
Debt by ErikaVan Gundy
Background: Debt is a primary force that traps individuals in a cycle of deepening poverty. A number of factors contribute to the strong effect that debt has on poverty, including required payments on interest accrued, late fees, predatory products targeted to the short-on-cash, and the inherent insecurity of one’s financial future. In the finance world, there is a distinction between “good debt” and “bad debt,” one which grows in value and the other which becomes costlier over time, respectively. However, debt (student loan, credit card, medical, or other) is almost universally a stressor for those in its grips and an extra factor in decisions such as where to live, what to eat that day, and how many jobs are needed to pay for the above and more. As a financial counselor for low-income New Yorkers, I see debt in terms of people and control. For my clients, debt is a dozen calls per day from creditors seeking repayment, piles of mail that sit unopened out of fear, and a constant tax on mental, financial, and emotional bandwidth.
Discuss: In taking on debt, there is an expectation and hope that your“future self”will be better off than your current self. Reflect on this for a moment. What does this hope mean, and how does it change the way we think about debt and debtors? How can this hope be channeled otherwise as it relates to financial or other aspects of someone’s life?
A Kavanah/Intention: I intend to speak with people from different parts of my life to better understand their experiences with debt, the situations that led them into debt, and how their subsequent decisions were impacted.
Erika Van Gundy was an AVODAH Fellow in 2014 and works for the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Office of Financial Empowerment
Education byLaura Taishoff
Background: A significant proportion of positive life outcomes depend on the foundation of a quality education. But what does it really mean? We need students to pursue challenging coursework and succeed academically, but education is also about empowerment and building character. It is no secret that the students with the greatest needs are often in the schools with the fewest resources available to meet them. In New Orleans, a city where an overwhelming majority of schools are either private or charter, access to quality education for the city’s most at-risk population is a cocktail of school closings, staff changes, and school-based arrests. I am a high school special education teacher working with students who are past the typical age range for their schooling. They are overage for a variety of factors, but one of the most prevalent is that other schools pushed them out. Despite the fact that they have consistently been denied access to a quality education, these are the students who are pursuing a diploma when it would undoubtedly be easier not to. We should simultaneously be inspired by them and ashamed that so many of them exist.
Discuss: In your best memories of school, how did you feel? Creative? Boundless? Praised? How would it have felt to be told you were not smart or made to feel as if your school did not want you there?
A Kavanah/Intention: I commit to doing my part to create a world in which every student, no matter what neighborhood the student is from, attends a school where students are challenged academically and empowered to be the future leaders of our world.
Laura Taishoff is a special education teacher at ReNew Accelerated High School in New Orleans. Laura is an alumna of the AVODAH 2009-2010 New Orleans cohort.
The Decline of Labor Rights by Lee M. Leviter
Background: For the past several decades, median earnings have been stagnant while hours worked have steadily increased. Why have we been working harder for less and less? Because decreasing union density has led to the disempowerment of workers in all sectors of the economy. Although workers are best able to improve their working conditions when they can make collective demands of their employer, many seek to vilify and weaken collective employee action. Companies like Walmart continue to fight unionization while paying so little that many of their full-time employees qualify for food stamps. Standing together in a union, these workers could negotiate for higher wages. In New York, we have heard calls for a higher minimum wage from workers in the fast-food industry, where pay can be as little as $8 an hour. It’s nearly impossible to survive in New York City at such a wage. As an attorney, I help represent public sector teachers, nurses, and other civil servants in New York City, where the same political and economic pressures threaten public sector employment as a pathway to the middle class
Discuss: If you are an employee, what aspects of your job would you change if you could join with your co-workers and ask? If you are an employer, how would you respond if an employee – or a group of employees – asked to change a particular aspect of the job?
A Kavanah/Intention: As we celebrate freedom this Passover, let us remember that we empower ourselves to fight oppression by acting together.
Lee Leviter was an AVODAH Fellow in 2014 and works as an attorney representing several major public-sector unions.
Immigration byMerri Nicholson
Background: During my AVODAH year at CASA de Maryland, young people (commonly referred to as DREAMers) led the way in utilizing grassroots organizing to successfully pass the Maryland DREAM Act, which expanded access to higher education to students without documentation. These DREAMers also pushed for comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people currently living in the United States. Many of these people are the cornerstone of economies from which we all benefit, such as construction and agriculture. They proudly pay taxes and immigrated for the same reasons our families did, to seek a better life or escape violence. Unlike when our families came to the United States, current restrictions make it impossible for most to obtain legal status. Fixing our immigration system will strengthen our communities by keeping families together and lift many out of poverty with expanded access to opportunities such as higher education and quality jobs.
Discuss: What caused your family to come to America? If it wasn’t recent, would they still have been able to immigrate in today’s political climate?
A Kavanah/Intention: May we see a Jewish community that fully embraces our immigrant roots by working for justice in solidarity with those coming to America seeking a better tomorrow.
Merri Nicholson is a research assistant at Academy Health in Washington, DC. Merri is an alum of the AVODAH 2012-2013 Washington, DC cohort.
Systemic Oppression byEmily Saltzman
Background: Oppression is largely defined as the use of authority or power in a cruel or unjust manner. Institutional oppression refers to the power of large systems or institutions that determine the cultural or professional standards for our society. Often these systems were developed from a framework, intentionally or not, that propels certain communities towards success, while keeping others from it. There is also an inextricable link between systematic oppression and poverty. For example, transgender communities of color are more likely to experience poverty due to transphobia in a labor force layered with racism in the educational system. This does not mean that individual members of this community cannot break the cycle of poverty, but it does mean that due to systematic oppression, they will have to struggle harder to reach success.
As Jews, we often think about oppression as it relates to our community’s historical struggle for religious freedom. This experience with historical oppression gives us a jumping-off point to address issues of systematic oppression with which we may not all have first-hand experience, including racism, classism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, and transphobia. Our ability to tap into our personal experiences with antisemitism in addition to our community’s struggle allows us to build solidarity with these communities and adds to our call for tikkun olam —to repair the world—because it is a world we share.
Discuss: As Jews, how can we use our experience of oppression to build solidarity with and support communities who are currently experiencing oppression? How might we inadvertently contribute to certain oppressive systems?
A Kavanah/Intention: I intend to challenge myself and my family to think more concretely about the ways systematic oppression affects our lives and what we can do individually to question the systems that we work and live in.
Emily Saltzman is a social worker focusing on comprehensive sexuality education in addition to being a Steering Committee Member of the Undoing Racism Internship Project. Emily is an alumna of the AVODAH 2008-2009 New York City cohort.
Intersecting Oppressions by Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay
Background: Hunger, healthcare, education, threats to voting rights, systemic oppression, lack of affordable housing, immigration, debt, labor restrictions. For many, these plagues intersect and overlap for people in poverty, increasing the obstacles that they must face. High health care bills can trigger hunger, inability to pay for adequate housing and long-term debt. An insufficient immigration policy can limit educational opportunities. Threats to voting rights limit the ability of individuals and communities to advocate for policies that could alleviate the challenges they face. Each individual plague has the capacity to devastate, and the combination can paralyze.
There are a variety of perspectives on how to address these plagues. We divide ourselves by political affiliation, sure that our policy and perspective is the best way forward. And yet, year after year, there are poor people to invite into our seders. Year after year, we create a set of contemporary plagues to read at our seders, because the society we’ve constructed is imperfect. We continue to dream of a redeemed and just world, and wonder how to get there.
This Passover, as always, we retell the story of our exodus from slavery to freedom. We remember the Egyptians by spilling a drop of wine for each plague that afflicted them, sacrificing some of the sweetness of the wine to honor the humanity of our enemy. This action reminds us that we were all made in God’s image. It compels us to connect even with those whom we consider our foes.
We live in a polarized society and often find ourselves believing the worst about one another. We have different ideas about how a just society looks and how it requires us each to behave. Our sages teach us that we cannot live without a chevruta, someone who challenges our “facts” and demands that we reconsider our opinions. Though we may disagree about how to get there, we must remember that our ultimate goal is to alleviate the intersecting oppressions that foster a system in which many don’t have the resources to meet their needs or a path through which they can attain them.
Discuss: Can you share a time in which someone (maybe even someone at your seder) inspired you to reconsider and expand your ideas about how to alleviate poverty? What contributed to your ability to think differently (and hopefully even act)?
Having considered this contemporary list of intersecting plagues and oppressions, how might the Jewish community contribute to creating a more just world for all people?
A Kavanah/Intention: May we always assume goodwill as we work to pursue justice and may our assumption of goodwill inspire it in others, so that together we bring about more civil discourse among pursuers of justice.
Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay is AVODAH’s Director of Alumni and Community Engagement
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As all good term papers do, we start with the main idea:
ּעֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ הָיִינו. עַתָּה בְּנֵי חוֹרִין
Avadim hayinu hayinu. Ata b’nei chorin.
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. Now we are free.
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and God took us from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. Had God not brought our ancestors out of Egypt, then even today we and our children and our grandchildren would still be slaves. Even if we were all wise, knowledgeable scholars and Torah experts, we would still be obligated to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt.
We have now told the story of Passover…but wait! We’re not quite done. There are still some symbols on our seder plate we haven’t talked about yet. Rabban Gamliel would say that whoever didn’t explain the shank bone, matzah, and marror (or bitter herbs) hasn’t done Passover justice.
The shank bone represents the Pesach, the special lamb sacrifice made in the days of the Temple for the Passover holiday. It is called the pesach, from the Hebrew word meaning “to pass over,” because God passed over the houses of our ancestors in Egypt when visiting plagues upon our oppressors.
The matzah reminds us that when our ancestors were finally free to leave Egypt, there was no time to pack or prepare. Our ancestors grabbed whatever dough was made and set out on their journey, letting their dough bake into matzah as they fled.
The bitter herbs provide a visceral reminder of the bitterness of slavery, the life of hard labor our ancestors experienced in Egypt.
The plagues and our subsequent redemption from Egypt are but one example of the care God has shown for us in our history. Had God but done any one of these kindnesses, it would have been enough – dayeinu.
אִלּוּ הוֹצִיאָֽנוּ מִמִּצְרַֽיִם, דַּיֵּנוּ
Ilu hotzi- hotzianu, Hotzianu mi-mitzrayim Hotzianu mi-mitzrayim, Dayeinu
If God had only taken us out of Egypt, that would have been enough!
אִלּוּ נָתַן לָֽנוּ אֶת־הַתּוֹרָה, דַּיֵּנוּ
Ilu natan natan lanu, natan lanu et ha-Torah, Natan lanu et ha-Torah , Dayeinu
If God had only given us the Torah, that would have been enough.
The complete lyrics to Dayeinu tell the entire story of the Exodus from Egypt as a series of miracles God performed for us. (See the Additional Readings if you want to read or sing them all.)
Dayeinu also reminds us that each of our lives is the cumulative result of many blessings, small and large.
בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת־עַצְמוֹ, כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרָֽיִם
B’chol dor vador chayav adam lirot et-atzmo, k’ilu hu yatzav mimitzrayim.
In every generation, everyone is obligated to see themselves as though they personally left Egypt.
The seder reminds us that it was not only our ancestors whom God redeemed; God redeemed us too along with them. That’s why the Torah says “God brought us out from there in order to lead us to and give us the land promised to our ancestors.”
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who redeemed us and our ancestors from Egypt, enabling us to reach this night and eat matzah and bitter herbs. May we continue to reach future holidays in peace and happiness.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Drink the second glass of wine!
As we now transition from the formal telling of the Passover story to the celebratory meal, we once again wash our hands to prepare ourselves. In Judaism, a good meal together with friends and family is itself a sacred act, so we prepare for it just as we prepared for our holiday ritual, recalling the way ancient priests once prepared for service in the Temple.
Some people distinguish between washing to prepare for prayer and washing to prepare for food by changing the way they pour water on their hands. For washing before food, pour water three times on your right hand and then three times on your left hand.
After you have poured the water over your hands, recite this short blessing.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדָֽיִם
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al n’tilat yadayim.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who made us holy through obligations, commanding us to wash our hands.
The blessing over the meal and matzah | motzi matzah | מוֹצִיא מַצָּה
The familiar hamotzi blessing marks the formal start of the meal. Because we are using matzah instead of bread, we add a blessing celebrating this mitzvah.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמּוֹצִיא לֶֽחֶם מִן הָאָֽרֶץ
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who brings bread from the land.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתַָיו וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל אֲכִילַת מַצָּה
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al achilat matzah.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who made us holy through obligations, commanding us to eat matzah.
Distribute and eat the top and middle matzah for everyone to eat.
Matzah, gefilte fish, and Leben.
Immediately you feel a pair of eyes.
Between bites of his footlong turkey on jalapeno cheddar, your co worker inquires:
'What is that?'
'It's fish….sort of….'
'No! No! that white cracker thing….'
You break off a small piece without hesitation and hand it over.
He chews it slowly.
He lights up.
'Hey! That stuff isn't bad!!!'
Try eating it for eight days, you think.
Dipping the bitter herb in sweet charoset | maror |מָרוֹר
In creating a holiday about the joy of freedom, we turn the story of our bitter history into a sweet celebration. We recognize this by dipping our bitter herbs into the sweet charoset. We don’t totally eradicate the taste of the bitter with the taste of the sweet… but doesn’t the sweet mean more when it’s layered over the bitterness?
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל אֲכִילַת מרוֹר
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al achilat maror.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who made us holy through obligations, commanding us to eat bitter herbs.
Tonight, we perform a number of rituals to try to arouse compassion within ourselves. We eat bitter herbs to give us a physical way to connect with the suffering of those who are not free. In the Bible, the reasoning behind the commandment to retell the story of the Exodus is explained as follows: “you know the soul of the outsider, because you were outsiders in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). Once a year, on Passover, we share the story so that we do not forget those in our society who, for any number of reasons, may be considered outsiders. The Seder reminds us that we were the undocumented immigrants in Egypt who put in long hours of hard labor doing the Egyptians’ dirty work; we were the unskilled workers, with no rights, working in subhuman conditions for wages that did not cover the basic necessities of life. Because we know this suffering first hand, we cannot sit back and watch while others struggle. We are grateful for the sumptuous fare we share tonight, but let’s also take a moment to consider those who have labored on the farm or in the factory to provide us with our festive table this evening. The entrepreneurs, farm owners, workers, janitors, truck drivers, loading dock workers and clerks all deserve to make a living wage. Many of us are aware of the human rights abuses that are often connected with the production of cotton, coffee, cocoa, steel, rugs, diamonds and cell phones in other countries, but it does not stop there. Let’s resolve to be more ethical in our purchasing decisions, and consider the companies and circumstances of the people involved in the supply chain, whether we buy products produced locally, through fair trade or from companies who have demonstrated fair and equitable treatment of their employees. The Seder reminds us that we must speak out if we encounter discrimination and abuses in our own workplaces, whether they are based on race, gender, religion, age, national origin, ancestry or disability. A highly respected twentieth century rabbi, Rav Soloveitchik, said this of the Seder: “without manifesting and demonstrating the sense of solidarity, responsibility, unity, and readiness to share and participate, the whole Seder becomes meaningless.” (Genack 2009, p. 27) As former slaves, we must advocate for the dignity and just treatment of all beings, especially of those who do not have the power or ability to speak for themselves. Poverty, prejudice, inequality and silence are what make slavery possible.
Eating a sandwich of matzah and bitter herb | koreich | כּוֹרֵךְ
When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the biggest ritual of them all was eating the lamb offered as the pesach or Passover sacrifice. The great sage Hillel would put the meat in a sandwich made of matzah, along with some of the bitter herbs. While we do not make sacrifices any more – and, in fact, some Jews have a custom of purposely avoiding lamb during the seder so that it is not mistaken as a sacrifice – we honor this custom by eating a sandwich of the remaining matzah and bitter herbs. Some people will also include charoset in the sandwich to remind us that God’s kindness helped relieve the bitterness of slavery.
Eating the meal! | shulchan oreich | שֻׁלְחָן עוֹרֵךְ
Enjoy! But don’t forget when you’re done we’ve got a little more seder to go, including the final two cups of wine!
Finding and eating the Afikomen | tzafoon | צָפוּן
The playfulness of finding the afikomen reminds us that we balance our solemn memories of slavery with a joyous celebration of freedom. As we eat the afikomen, our last taste of matzah for the evening, we are grateful for moments of silliness and happiness in our lives.
The Third Cup
(Pour the third cup of wine)
Reader 1: The swords have not yet been put aside, and the time of the plowshare and the pruning hooks is still to come. But the journey has begun. Towards that redemption, let us lift once again our glasses of wine and
join in the blessing:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’olam boreh p’ri ha-gafen.
We praise You, O God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who brings forth the fruit of the vine.
(Leaning to the left, all drink the third cup of wine.)
Reader 1: That's the difficulty in these times: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to meet the horrible truth and be shattered.
It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because, in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can't build my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusio, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a
wilderness. I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us too. I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.
Group: In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.
- Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank.
Singing songs that praise God | hallel | הַלֵּל
This is the time set aside for singing. Some of us might sing traditional prayers from the Book of Psalms. Others take this moment for favorites like Chad Gadya & Who Knows One, which you can find in the appendix. To celebrate the theme of freedom, we might sing songs from the civil rights movement. Or perhaps your crazy Uncle Frank has some parody lyrics about Passover to the tunes from a musical. We’re at least three glasses of wine into the night, so just roll with it.
Fourth Glass of Wine
As we come to the end of the seder, we drink one more glass of wine. With this final cup, we give thanks for the experience of celebrating Passover together, for the traditions that help inform our daily lives and guide our actions and aspirations.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Drink the fourth and final glass of wine!
The Cup of Elijah
We now refill our wine glasses one last time and open the front door to invite the prophet Elijah to join our seder.
In the Bible, Elijah was a fierce defender of God to a disbelieving people. At the end of his life, rather than dying, he was whisked away to heaven. Tradition holds that he will return in advance of messianic days to herald a new era of peace, so we set a place for Elijah at many joyous, hopeful Jewish occasions, such as a baby’s bris and the Passover seder.
אֵלִיָּֽהוּ הַנָּבִיא, אֵלִיָּֽהוּ הַתִּשְׁבִּיאֵלִיָּֽהוּ, אֵלִיָּֽהוּ,אֵלִיָּֽהוּ הַגִּלְעָדִי
בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵֽנוּ יָבוֹא אֵלֵֽינוּ
עִם מָשִֽׁיחַ בֶּן דָּוִד
עִם מָשִֽׁיחַ בֶּן דָּוִד
Eliyahu, Eliyahu, Eliyahu hagiladi
Bimheirah b’yameinu, yavo eileinu
Im mashiach ben-David,
Im mashiach ben-David
Elijah the prophet, the returning, the man of Gilad:
return to us speedily,
in our days with the messiah,
son of David.
Leader: [Announces the name of the child or children who found the `afikoman.]
Let us continue our seder by eating one last little piece of matsah to leave us with the taste of freedom's struggles.
[Everyone eat a last piece of matsah.]
Now, let us conclude our seder.
We have recalled struggles against slavery and injustice.
We have sung of freedom and peace.
We revisited times of persecution and times of fulfillment.
Only half a century ago, Nazis committed the crimes of the Holocaust.
Today, as Jews in the United States, we are more free than at any other time.
Yet Jewish history shows that life is ever-changing,
and we must learn how to survive under all conditions.
When we are persecuted, we must struggle for our own freedom.
The more freedom we attain,
the more we must help others attain freedom.
This is the lesson of Passover. This is why we celebrate the Festival of Freedom.
Nirtzah marks the conclusion of the seder. Our bellies are full, we have had several glasses of wine, we have told stories and sung songs, and now it is time for the evening to come to a close. At the end of the seder, we honor the tradition of declaring, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
For some people, the recitation of this phrase expresses the anticipation of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem and the return of the Messiah. For others, it is an affirmation of hope and of connectedness with Klal Yisrael, the whole of the Jewish community. Still others yearn for peace in Israel and for all those living in the Diaspora.
Though it comes at the end of the seder, this moment also marks a beginning. We are beginning the next season with a renewed awareness of the freedoms we enjoy and the obstacles we must still confront. We are looking forward to the time that we gather together again. Having retold stories of the Jewish people, recalled historic movements of liberation, and reflected on the struggles people still face for freedom and equality, we are ready to embark on a year that we hope will bring positive change in the world and freedom to people everywhere.
In The Leader's Guide to the Family Participation Haggadah: A Different Night, Rabbi David Hartman writes: “Passover is the night for reckless dreams; for visions about what a human being can be, what society can be, what people can be, what history may become.”
What can we do to fulfill our reckless dreams? What will be our legacy for future generations?
Our seder is over, according to Jewish tradition and law. As we had the pleasure to gather for a seder this year, we hope to once again have the opportunity in the years to come. We pray that God brings health and healing to Israel and all the people of the world, especially those impacted by natural tragedy and war. As we say…
לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּירוּשָׁלָֽיִם
L’shana haba-ah biy’rushalayim
NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM!