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This Haggadot.com version shares some of our favorite parts of this haggadah. To download the full text in PDF, or to order hardcopies, visit www.truah.org/haggadah.
Since 2009, T’ruah has been a leader in the Jewish community in the effort to end human trafficking — also known as forced labor and modern-day slavery. The first edition of this haggadah, published in 2015, helped to increase awareness and inspire reflection and action by the Jewish community on this crucial issue.
2020 and beyond calls for all that and more.
Human trafficking, at its core, is a crime of exploitation and control. Therefore, it can offer a lens — or perhaps a mirror — for viewing the other pressing issues of our day: immigration, racism, class struggle, and more. It is crucial for me to note that human trafficking does not require any movement across a border. American citizens — including white, middle-class men and women — can be and regularly are trafficked in their very hometowns. We cannot lose sight of that or fall into the assumption that trafficking only concerns immigrants and poor people of color. That being said, the people most vulnerable to trafficking are often immigrants and are often people of color. This haggadah focuses on their story and how it is part of our larger American story; thus, to the original title The Other Side of the Sea we have added The Other Side of the River. The expanded edition pays increased attention to immigration, particularly as it touches labor rights and worker exploitation.
This issue remains with us despite the inauguration of the Biden-Harris Administration. It will remain with us until we achieve a wholesale re-vision of our economy into one that treats human beings not as disposable cogs but as uniquely precious images of God.
--Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, Deputy Director, T'ruah
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Picture drawn by an immigrant child detained at the Tornillo tent city, Tornillo, Texas, December 2018, shortly before the facility was closed. The quetzal is significant in Central American culture and mythology, including as a sign of spring and symbol of freedom. Photograph by Justin Hamel.
As the Four Questions will soon point out, we dip twice in our seder. The two dippings are opposites. The first time, as we prepare to enter a world of slavery, we dip a green vegetable into saltwater, marring its life-giving freshness with the taste of tears and death. The second time, as we move towards redemption, we moderate the bitterness of maror with the sweetness of charoset. Any time we find ourselves immersed in sadness and suffering, may we always have the courage to know that blessing is coming.
The dipping of karpas also recalls the Israelites’ first stop after crossing the Red Sea, which was called Marah. After a three-day journey, they found water there, but it was bitter, undrinkable. God showed Moses a piece of wood to throw (dip) into the water, which made it potable. (Exodus 15:22-27)
Even after a major initial victory, our elation can collapse swiftly under the weight of the next steps we have to take. Karpas reminds us that the journey to freedom — like the seder — is long, and we have to pace ourselves.
This episode is also the source-text for the rabbis’ instituting reading Torah on Mondays and Thursdays, so we never go more than three days without water/Torah. Karpas reminds us that on the long road to redemption, we have to make sure we stop and nourish ourselves wherever we can.
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We might think the most basic encapsulation of the haggadah is in the simple song that children learn in Jewish preschool, which comes right after the Four Questions:
Avadim hayinu, hayinu / We were slaves
Atah b'nai horin, b'nai horin / Now we are free
But as adults, we know that “now we are free” is an oversimplification. We are trapped in so many overlapping oppressive systems. Indeed, at the end of the avadim hayinu paragraph, the haggadah offers us an alternative thesis statement, inviting us to go beyond the basics:
וְכָל הַמַרְבֶה לְסַפֵר בִיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם הֲרֵי זֶה מְשֻבָח
The more we expand the telling of the Exodus,
the more praiseworthy.
The more we expand our perspective to include diverse liberation struggles and the action needed to bring them to fruition, the better. In the service of that expansion, this haggadah makes the following arguments:
1. The United States was founded on fundamentally racist principles and has yet to fully grapple with that legacy.
2. America’s appetite for cheap goods and labor can only survive through exploitative labor practices and immigration, and our immigration policies expose people to further abuse.
3. Forced labor does not happen in a vacuum but in the context of powerful systems that treat some people as less valuable or worthy than others.
4. If we want to reconstruct our country so it fulfills its stated values, we will have to follow the solutions and leadership of thus-far marginalized communities: women, people of color, low-wage workers, and immigrants.
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In October 2018, the Tree of Life Synagogue building, less than a mile from the synagogue I serve, was attacked by a gunman. Our
community is so interconnected that, in truth, the entire Pittsburgh Jewish community was attacked because we stood up for refugees and immigrants. The gunman’s fear of the other reflects Pharaoh’s fear: that strangers are dangerous. Just as Pharaoh’s fear was unfounded, so too the fear of immigrants and refugees is unfounded.
In the aftermath, as we picked up the pieces of our new lives, healing from our tragedy, we became like those wandering in the desert. We had to rely on one another. Not just a group of individuals but a community. We made it, spiritually, to the other side of the Red Sea, and we can see clearer now than ever. We learned that we are in this struggle side by side. That each of us plays an important role and that, together, we are stronger.
-- Rabbi Jeremy Markiz, Congregation Beth Shalom, Pittsburgh, Pa.
“Slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.”
- Hon. Dr. Eric Williams, historian, first prime minister of independent Trinidad and Tobago (1944) (Qtd. in Ron and Norwood, below)
Modern American racism was intentionally crafted in the American colonies as a form of social control — not just of Africans and Native Americans but also over poor white people. “[Slavery] made whiteness the mark of freedom, ensuring that ‘ordinary’ English settlers identified with their social betters instead of making common cause with the new [African] arrivals.“ (ibid) This intentional construction can be seen in the evolving legal definitions of whiteness over the years, from requiring three white grandparents to the “one drop rule.” Slavery, originally an economic choice, gave rise to an entire racial system for organizing society — which has been reinforced, in subsequent years, by bringing other people of color to this country as migrant workers.
(Drawn from "America Cannot Bear to Bring Back Indentured Servitude," by Ariel Ron and Dael Norwood, The Atlantic, 3/28/18)
White Supremacy vs. White Nationalism
According to Eric Ward, Executive Director of the Western States Center and an expert on fighting white nationalism, these two ideologies differ in important ways, despite starting from a shared belief that white people and culture are superior to people of color.
Goal: Exploit the bodies of people of color for economic and other gain, including sexual assault.
History: Foundational system that pervades all aspects of American life.
Impact on Jews: Ashkenazi and other white-appearing Jews benefit from many of the same privileges as other white people.
Goal: Expel people of color to create a “pure” white-only ethno-state.
History: Particular political ideology arising in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement.
Impact on Jews: Views all Jews as non-white and the root cause of white America’s ills.
1. Which is a better analogy for Egypt in the Exodus story, white supremacy or white nationalism?
2. How is white supremacy a root cause of forced labor and trafficking today?
3. How do these play out in our immigration system?
This 12-foot tall statue was built by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and carried 235 miles across Florida in March 2000, at the very beginning of the Campaign for Fair Food. In June 2017, it was installed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., as part of a permanent exhibit, “The Nation We Build Together.” This exhibit explores the question of what it means to be an American and how that has changed over time.
1. How do you think this statue is answering that question?
2. If you were curating this exhibit, what is one Jewish artifact you would include? One non-Jewish artifact?
3. How might you read Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus” not only as a commentary on immigration but as a midrash on Miriam, Yocheved, Pharaoh’s daughter, and the other women of the Exodus?
“The New Colossus,” by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Picture drawn by an immigrant child detained at the Tornillo tent city, Tornillo, Tex., January 2019, shortly before the facility was closed. Photograph by Justin Hamel.
Hearts beating like drums. Hands grasping at precious objects in the dark. My ancestors fled their oppressors under the cover of night. They packed light, bringing only sustenance for the journey ahead, unrisen cakes of dough. What could not be tied to their backs was etched across their hearts and on their souls: joy and pain, hope and trauma, uncertainty and faith. Bite by bite, they trusted that the bread of their affliction would become the bread of their liberation.
At the Passover seder, I step back into that experience. I eat the bread of affliction to remember their journey, memories etched across my own heart and soul like the generations before me. And yet, the journey to liberation is far from over.
Today, more than 70 million souls still wander the earth fleeing violence and persecution. From Syria, South Sudan, Myanmar, Colombia – from every corner of the earth – today’s refugees make perilous journeys almost as dangerous as the conflicts they flee. In the name of our ancestors, let us raise the Jewish community’s voice in saying that we want the doors of our country to remain open to refugees and asylum seekers. We will bear witness as they write the next chapter of their stories in safety and with dignity.
- Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, Rabbi-in-Residence, HIAS
“No people have had a more inadequate preparation, educational and economic, for American citizenship.”
This quote comes not from today’s rightwing media but from McClure’s Magazine in 1907, referring to Russian Jews. Jews have been targets of the same rhetoric hurled at today’s immigrants. As HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield likes to say, “We used to help refugees because they were Jewish; now we help refugees because we are Jewish.” The history of Eastern European Jews immigrating to the U.S. through Ellis Island looms large in the American Jewish psyche. But we must also remember and honor the diversity of Jewish experiences:
• The first wave of Jews to arrive in America were Sephardim, who established synagogues and Jewish communities, some of which continue to operate today.
• Native American Jews are not immigrants.
• African-American Jews likely have ancestors who were brought here violently and against their will.
• Converts may come from families that have been here for hundreds of years.
• Many Jews are themselves immigrants; for them, the story is not one of long ago but of here and now.
Our shared sacred story is one of migration, seeking the promised land and being exiled from it in cycles, but each individual also has their personal stories.
Racism is implicitly and explicitly embedded in American society’s structure and culture. It is a pervasive virus that seeps into all aspects of our lives, including our Jewish community. It’s what motivated a mob of Chasidic Jews to harass me in front of my home for carrying a Torah scroll because it was too far fetched for a black man carrying a Torah to be a fellow Jew. It’s what continues to marginalize Jewish people of color, making even holy Jewish spaces like synagogues intolerable for many.
Every year we recall the Israelite experience of oppression, redemption and the recurring commandment to care for those in society that remain oppressed, such as the stranger, the orphan and the widow. These memories and values are key to embodying anti-racism through concrete acts of care and shifting access to power, which is critical to actualizing our true multi-racial community in its fullest glory.
-- Yehudah Webster, Community Organizer, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ)
Excerpts from “Maror and Maggid: Clearing My Throat”
by Rabbi Mira Rivera, Romemu, NYC
They have reason to worry
because multiply we have
multiplied and we are the Other
African Latinx Asian and in-between
by way of Shanghai Bnei Anusim Cochin Jew Abayudaya
Jewish by way of mother by way of father you challenge
Observant by way of secular parents who may be practicing
Baal Baalat Teshuvah Jew
Jewish by Sefarad to the letter
by way of Yosef Caro
By way of the Rema
Strictly Halachic Jew
Neither Sefardi neither Mizrachi
neither Ashkenazi neither Israeli
Still a Diaspora Jew
I eat with my fingers
I dine with fine crystal
I have cheeks burning
Peach ruddy roasted warm coffee
Desert mocha midnight blue black Jew...
Jew in the pew Pew Report Jew
Forever an immigrant forever Yisrael
Forever wrestling honestly
Still proud to be a Jew
And yes, you’re very welcome
I’m a Person of Color
you can look at me
You can see me
I’m a Jew of Color
And I claim my space
But I do get it
Gotta justify presence
in almost every Jewish space
So where were we again?
Yes, I am Jewish
This is my name
I am not intermarried
And I did not take his name
Yes, I am a convert
Yes, I am a Rabbi
I am here just like you
And yes I am a Jew
So where were we again?
Now you tell me all about you
The Passover story of workers collectively rising up against their oppressors repeats itself throughout our history. In the early
20th century, we saw this theme reflected in the more than two million Eastern European Jewish immigrants fighting for union rights, protections, and solidarity. These workers, who risked so much to emigrate to their “Promised Land,” quickly found themselves working in sweatshops with low pay, excessive hours, and dangerous worksites. They used their European tradition of labor activism as a tool to organize thousands, many of them immigrant women, offering them the opportunity to change their world through the union movement. In 1909, Jewish women workers, including labor organizers Clara Lemlich and Rose Schneiderman, sparked the Uprising of 20,000 – a strike led and won by women garment workers who walked off their jobs and eventually gained thousands of union jobs. This movement ultimately achieved five-day workweeks, the recognition of the rights of women workers, and workplace safety regulations that still exist today. Today we commit to continue our tradition of labor activism and join in campaigns to make today’s United States a “Promised Land” for workers and immigrants.
-- Ann Toback, Executive Director, The Workers’ Circle
American Jewish communities today are of mixed socioeconomic class, as they have always been, and include poor and working-class Jews. A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that 16 percent of Jewish adults had a household income of below $30,000, and another 15 percent earned below $50,000. When the Jewish community mobilizes its resources to effect change in the world, we should remember to count among those resources the lived experience and changemaking energy of poor and working-class Jews. It is not just that many of us were poor a century ago; many of us still are today.
Art project by an immigrant child detained at the Tornillo tent city Tornillo, Texas, December 2018, shortly before the facility was closed. Photograph by Justin Hamel.
Why did Pharaoh hate and fear the Israelites so much?
A clue may be found in what the Israelites were forced to build in Egypt: not pyramids, or sacred tombs for the Pharaohs, but arei miskenot (Exodus 1:11), understood as either “garrison-cities” or “granary-cities.” The latter interpretation (following II Chronicles 32:28) echoes an earlier story, in Genesis, about how Joseph saved Egypt from a devastating famine by stockpiling and then rationing food.
The Torah says that a new Pharaoh arose who “did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). According to the medieval commentator Rashi, it was not that he actually had never heard of Joseph. Rather, he was a xenophobe who could not stand the knowledge that mighty Egypt could have been brought to its knees by famine and then saved by a foreigner. So he decreed a massive building project, to protect Egypt from ever being vulnerable again, and he carried it out on the backs of Joseph’s descendants — pretending that he didn’t know that their ancestor had saved all of Egypt.
A similar building project has been carried out by both American political parties — the construction of fencing and walls on the U.S. Mexico border — to the devastation of border communities and immigrants throughout the U.S. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, from 2007-2018 the U.S. spent $9.7 billion on border barriers, almost exclusively on the Mexican border. The fear that immigration threatens America — its economy, security, and very identity — has been used to justify these draconian and wasteful policies.
Here’s what we know about border security and immigration:
1. “Constructing a border wall has not been empirically shown to deter undocumented migration; instead, it displaces crossing methods and increases the use and cost of smugglers. This is dangerous because smugglers have been known to physically and sexually abuse undocumented migrants and even engage in human trafficking.”
- Anti-trafficking expert Dr. Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco
2. Many people coming to the U.S. “illegally” are actually following the rules for seeking asylum, which is a legal process meant to offer protection to those escaping persecution or threats to their lives. New policies enacted since 2017 have made it increasingly difficult to request asylum, prompting journalist and historian Jelani Cobb to note, “The era of America as a country of asylum is over.”
3. In July 2017, the State Department said there was “no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States.”
4. Most undocumented immigrants in the U.S. did not cross the border between official ports of entry; rather, they entered the country with a visa and then overstayed.
Pharaoh’s fear remains with our country today.
• What past moment(s) of vulnerability do you think the US is grappling with when rhetoric around “securing our borders” ramps up?
• Whom do you think is blamed?
Me’am Loez on Exodus 1:22; commentary of Rabbi Yaakov Culi (17th-18th c. Turkey), translated from the original Ladino by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan:
“Every boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile.” Throughout all this, the Israelites did not know that this was a plan devised against them by Pharaoh. They were led to believe that such ghastly acts were being done by individual Egyptians on their own initiative. Many Israelites even complained to the authorities, and were told that if proper witnesses would be brought, the perpetrators would be punished. Eventually, of course, the Israelites discovered the truth.”
A new midrash:
“God saw our suffering, our toil, and our oppression.” (Deuteronomy 26:7)
“Our suffering” — This represents the interpersonal realm, how we treat others. We may ourselves treat workers fairly and refrain from racist comments, but that is the barest beginning.
“Our toil” — This represents the ideational realm, both in our own heads and in the society at large. We absorb racist, exploitative ideas from the moment we are born.
“Our oppression” — This represents institutional racism, where the very structures of our society — economics, politics, alleged meritocracy — hem us in by the color of our skin.
We cannot wait for God to take us out of this Egypt. We are working together on ending Egypt for all of us.
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Dayeinu is a symmetrical song, in which we sing the one-word chorus 14 times. The first seven describe the Exodus, culminating with drowning the Egyptians in the sea. The second seven describe the building of a just and self-sustaining society, culminating with the building of the Temple. Only when the system is stable can we really say “dayeinu.”
In the same way, the work of fighting forced labor does not end the moment a trafficked person is freed. It continues for years into the future as we support their recovery from trauma. We benefit from the society that enables their abuse; therefore we must shoulder the responsibility to build social and economic systems that no longer rely on or allow exploitation.
“In every generation a person must see themselves as if they came out of Egypt…Therefore we are obligated…”
This is the seder’s fulcrum, the turning point that leverages our collective memories of slavery and turns them into collective obligation. This is the moment when we return to Ha lachma anya and say:
Hashta avdei / Now, slaves;
Leshanah haba’a / Next year
b’nei chorin! / Free people!
“Seeing ourselves” — Who are you?
In a 2017 d’var Torah for T’ruah, Rabbi Katie Mizrahi of Or Shalom Jewish Community in San Francisco wrote: “The story of the Exodus is in us, and we are in that story. But where exactly? Every year the seder asks us to imagine our answers. Are you a midwife, commanded by an evil authority to commit an immoral act, finding a way to resist? Are you young Moses lashing out at injustice, going too far, knocking down a pawn without impacting structural evil? Are you the kind daughter of Pharaoh, drawing a miracle child out of the waters, using your privilege to protect the vulnerable? Are you standing on holy ground marveling at a burning bush, hearing a call to be more than you have been? Where are YOU in the story?”
We should be open to the likelihood that, in this world of globalized capitalism, in addition to these liberatory roles, we in North America are also on Team Pharaoh. We always play multiple roles simultaneously: oppressor, victim, enabler, freedom fighter, bystander, and more. When we come to own that responsibility, we can face the cognitive dissonance our multiple identities create; instead of going with the flow, we begin to direct our energies deliberately.
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Tzafun, which literally means “hidden,” is the part of the seder where we seek what is not obvious, when we look for something other than what is in front of our faces. It is also when we return to that which was broken earlier in the evening and try to make it whole again. In this way, Tzafun serves as the organizing principle of the second half of our seder, where we ask ourselves what world we want to see. Then we commit ourselves to making it real.
By moving one little dot, Tzafun becomes Tzafon, North. What North Star will guide your work to bring about the world you want to see?
צָפוּן > צָפוֹן
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The seven weeks of the Omer, between Pesach and Shavuot, are traditionally (though somewhat mysteriously) a time of partial mourning. Rabbi Shai Held offers this explanation:
The Exodus may be a paradigm for how Jewish history is supposed (indeed, destined) to look, but for now — tragically, inexplicably — history makes a mockery of this paradigm. Rome is triumphant; a renewed Exodus remains but a dim hope.
And so we mourn. We mourn because our experience falls so unbearably short of the redemption we have been promised and assured will come. There is a stunning degree of audacity — and honesty — in starting to grieve as Pesach begins, because, in fundamental respects, Pesach resides in the future rather than the present. And yet grief does not have the final — or even the loudest — word, because we affirm that the God who redeemed us will, despite all evidence to the contrary, redeem us “a second time.” (In The Heart of Torah, Volume 2, p. 75)
In the medieval midrash Pirkei deRebbe Eliezer (ch. 43), Rabbi Nechunya ben Hakanah teaches that even Pharaoh was capable of teshuvah. Just as Pharaoh sinned by saying, “Who is the ETERNAL / Mi Adonai ? ” (Exodus 5:2), he repented with the same language, saying, “Who is like the ETERNAL / Mi Chamocha ?” (Exodus 15:11). God rescued him from the Red Sea and made him King of Nineveh. When Jonah came to prophesy the destruction of Nineveh, at once Pharaoh led his people in teshuvah, and God spared the city.
The midrash has an epilogue, though: After 40 years, Nineveh backslid and was swallowed in the depths of the underworld. This teaches us that teshuvah is an ongoing process, never a closed ledger.
What might redemption look like today? What teshuvah does it demand from us?
• Reparations for African-Americans and Native Americans/First Nations
• An immigration policy that treats all people with respect and compassion — such as the “Free to Move, Free to Stay” framework proposed by United We Dream: https://unitedwedreamaction.org/framework-2020/
• Ecological sustainability, so that none would have to flee as climate refugees
• A civilization governed by values other than the bottom line and production of cheap goods
What else do you envision?