Hinay ma tov umah na’im shevet achim gam yachad.
How good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity. (Psalm 133)
KADESH: SANCTIFYING OUR GATHERING
A central symbol of the Passover seder—literally an “order”— is four cups of wine or grape juice, representing different stages of the seder. We move from gathering to hearing other people’s stories, then to sharing our own exodus narratives, and finally to song. Let us fill the first cup, the cup of gathering, and consider why we are here.
Refugees are people who escape war, violence, or persecution in their home countries and seek protection in other countries.
Their persecution may be based on race, religion, nationality, or political opinion. Nearly all Jews have ancestors who have been refugees. The Passover story tells of Jewish refugees who escaped slavery and threats against their lives in Egypt and sought protection in the land of Israel.
Since 2007, Israeli activists, progressive Jewish organizations, and African refugee and asylum seeker communities have united to hold a communal “Refugee Seder” in Israel each year. The participants celebrate a renewed commitment to working together for freedom. At this seder here today, we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel who pursue freedom.
We say the blessing and drink the cup of gathering.
Blessed is the creator of the fruit of the vine.
The beauty of Urchatz was revealed to me during a women's seder. Each participant washed the hands of another with care and kavanah (intentionality)—and without words. The sisterhood created in the sacred silence elevates communal consciousness. How will we utilize this state of purity? V'ahavtah l're'echa kamochah - to love the other as ourself.
How will this ancient wisdom propel us forward to empower the silent? How will we elevate the hands of all those still in Mitzrayim?
--Jessica K. Shimberg, Spiritual Leader, The Little Minyan Kehilla, Columbus, OH; ALEPH Rabbinical Program Class of 2018
The first time I heard a trafficking survivor speak many years ago, she told the story of her parents trafficking her for sex from the time she was a young girl until she was an adult. I sat in horror, listening to her calm recollection of how both her mother and father trafficked her, sometimes leaving her for days at a time in a makeshift brothel when she was barely old enough to read and write.
Her story was my T’ruah – a decibel defying call to action to open doors, pull back curtains, and shout from the rooftops the pain and suffering of trafficked individuals in our midst.
The call guides my work at the National Council of Jewish Women, alongside incredible and passionate advocates around the country, to raise awareness about trafficking in the United States where children are bought and sold in every state, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And the call informs my work to create lasting social change through legislative advocacy – working with lawmakers to address the systemic issues that allow trafficking to exist, including lack of education and opportunities, and passing legislation to reform the child welfare system which effectively serves as a supply chain to traffickers.
The sound of the shofar on Passover reminds me not only of one woman’s unspeakable journey, but of my greater responsibility to ensure my call becomes a collective call to action for all of us in the Jewish community.
-- Jody Rabhan, Director of Washington Operations, National Council of Jewish Women
Matzah, unleavened bread, reminds us both the bread of poverty that the ancient Israelites ate in Egypt and the bread of freedom that they ate in their rushed escape to freedom. Three matzot sit on a plate at the center of the table. At this point of the seder, we break the middle matzah in two, wrap one portion in a napkin, and set it aside, hidden from sight.
This division reminds us of the forced separation of communities and families, parents from children, spouses and siblings from each other. The visible half becomes our bread of affliction, representing the suffering of those who do not know where their loved ones are. The hidden half, called the afikoman, represents the horrors hidden from our sight. At the end of the seder, we look for the afikoman, and similarly commit to seeking redemption. Until families and communities become one whole again, our seder cannot truly end.
I am 38 years old, married and a father of two children. I was born in Niala, South Darfur. My father was murdered during an attack on our village in 2003. We had to run away and seek refuge in the “Kalma” refugee camp. My mother, wife and children still live there until today. I miss them very much and I don’t know what their situation is. I came to Israel to seek protection but I was imprisoned. I have been in prison for almost two years. I don’t want to be in prison any more. –Testimony of A.A.M.S., 1/18/14 1
We pour a second cup, the cup of storytelling, and over it we begin to tell tales of Exodus old and new.
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt…
The reason people are leaving Eritrea is not hunger; it’s a dictatorship that imprisons and tortures citizens at will. If he could live in Eritrea with freedom and safety, W told me there was no place he would rather live; it was home. As we drove out of Holot [Detention Facility in the Negev], W said, “it looks exactly like the military camp in Eritrea” (where men do constant, mandatory service until they’re 55, making it impossible for them to have any other life). “Exactly the same! The only difference is that in Eritrea, the fence is wood,” he said, looking out at the high, thick metal topped with barbed wire. –Testimony of W, a refugee from Eritrea, recorded by journalist Ayla Peggy Adler, 2/12/14
The Egyptians treated us badly and they made us suffer, and they put hard work upon us…
I was born and raised in Eritrea, where I was fortunate to be well educated…I taught high school math…On January 10, 2012, I fled my homeland to escape persecution… Smugglers offered to take me to a refugee camp, but instead they transported me to someplace in the Sudanese desert and held me and others as slaves. We worked in our captors’ houses and fields all day, without a break. I tried to escape, but they caught me; as punishment, they isolated me and held me, blindfolded, in solitary confinement for a month…We suffered greatly. We saw our friends die…I didn’t think I would survive…
On July 7, 2012, my captors took me, and others, to the Israeli border. Israeli soldiers spotted us but refused us entry. We turned back, and eventually we found a different route to cross into Israel. Security forces immediately picked us up and transferred us to the Saharonim prison.—Testimony published anonymously, 1/28/14
“It is because of what the ETERNAL did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.”
Kamal (“Kimo”), 26, was born in a village in Darfur. He was 15 when the Janjaweed attacked his village. 800 of his villagers fled to the Nuba Mountains, where they made a temporary camp. Three weeks later, the UN found them , said it was unsafe, and helped them get to Kakuma camp in Kenya, but there were no opportunities for a real future or education there. With his best friend Ibrahim, he decided to leave. He left his family and went to South Sudan where he worked for a year to earn the money for the Bedouins to cross the Sinai. After climbing the fence to Israel, Ibrahim and Kimo walked for ten hours with no food or water. They finally saw the Israeli border patrol and they were given food and water and put into a detention facility. After six months there, he was brought to Levinsky Park in South Tel Aviv, where he stayed for three months outside, while working to get his visa. He has worked in hotels for the last four years. In his free time, he studied computers, psychology, and English and volunteered with ASSAF’s (Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) Youth Program. He received a summons to report to Holot Detention Facility on April 2, 2014. --Testimony reported during a series of writing workshops developed and run by Madelyn Kent with Jeremy Elster and Right Now: Advocates for African Refugees in Israel. These stories are part of a larger storytelling/video project with African refugees, “Desert Stories.”
Our tradition speaks of four children or four attitudes: the wise child, the wicked child, the simple child, and the one who does not know how to ask. Each child has a different reaction to hearing about slavery. . .
What does the wise child say? “What are the testimonies, the statutes, and the laws that apply to this situation? How are we to discern what God demands of us?” You are to answer this child: “God brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage that we may understand the heart of those suffering in slavery, and use all our powers to redeem them.”
What does the wicked child say? “What does all this work have to do with you?” Notice: “you,” not him or her. The wicked child stays far removed from suffering, and thus has lost the essence of our teachings. You might ask this child: “If you had been in Egypt, would you have been redeemed? And if you do not lift a finger now, who will redeem those who languish in slavery?”
The simple child asks: “What’s this all about?” You should teach this child: God brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand, out of the affliction of slavery. So we must use our strength to abolish slavery around the world. We cannot stop our work until there are no longer any slaves, anywhere.
The child who does not know to ask, you must open his or her eyes to what is going on. For today, there are 27 million people living in slavery, and over 8 million of them are children. Surely this is one reason God took our people out of Egypt long ago – so that we might understand what slavery is like, and help free all those who remain enslaved.
And Egyptians made the Hebrews lives bitter with hard bondage,
in mortar, and in brick... Exodus 1:14
Brick Making in Pakistan: A Vignette
Since the 1960s, an estimated 750,000 landless Muslim peasants have hand molded hundreds of millions of mud bricks each year in Pakistan. The bricks are fired in some 7,000 vast but primitive kilns spread throughout the country.
With no other hope for sustenance, desperate families drift to kilns where they borrow money to buy food and tools from the owners. On a good day, a family will mold about fourteen hundred bricks for which they are paid two dollars. But their debts keep growing because kiln owners undercount the number of bricks produced, inflate the debt, and charge exorbitant prices for food and clothing.
Impoverished families, including young children, work as a unit. Without putting their children to work, these families would sink even deeper in debt. Even so, most families incur debts they will never earn enough to repay. If kiln owners suspect that a family may be planning to run away, they take a child to another location as a hostage.
According to one former kiln owner, "to intimidate brick makers, the owner just comes along and smashes all the freshly made raw bricks, a whole day's work, for no reason. If a young worker lifts his head or causes trouble, they will put his leg in the kiln oven for a second to burn it. This is common and brick makers are forced to watch." When a parent dies, the children inherit their mother's or father's debts, assuring another generation of bonded brick makers.
David Arnow, PhD
Author of Creating Lively Passover Seders www.livelyseders.com
Co-editor My People's Passover Haggadah both published by and available from www.jewishlights.com
This material was originally published by the New Israel Fund www.nif.org in its 2002 Passover Haggadah Supplement.
The song “Dayeinu,” which literally means “it would have been enough for us,” thanks God for all the miracles performed for the Jewish people: from the Exodus out of Egypt, to their journey through the desert, until they entered the land of Israel where they built a national home. In reality, no one of these alone would indeed have been enough. But we celebrate each step toward freedom before moving to the next step. If we dismiss small victories, we will never achieve the whole liberation.
CHORUS: Dai-dai-yenu, dai-dai-yenu, dai-dai-yenu, dayeinu dayeinu (x2)
Spoken: If the ETERNAL had taken the Jews out of Egypt and not brought them safely to Israel, dayeinu !
Spoken: If the ETERNAL had brought the Jews to Israel and not empowered them to build a sovereign state, dayeinu !
Spoken: If the ETERNAL had empowered the Jews to build a sovereign state and not inspired them to make it a democracy, dayeinu !
Spoken: If the ETERNAL had inspired the Jews to make Israel a democracy and not given them great power, dayeinu !
Spoken: If the ETERNAL had given the Jews great power
and not ennobled them to wield it with compassion, dayeinu !
But the ETERNAL has ennobled us to wield power with compassion. In every generation a person must see him/herself as if s/he had personally gone out of Egypt. In past generations, Jews fled from oppression and persecution. Now we all draw courage from our pasts to extend a hand of aid and friendship to those in need.
We say the blessing and drink the cup of storytelling.
Blessed is the creator of the fruit of the vine.
We fill the third cup, the cup of conversation, and turn to small groups to share our stories.
Rabban Gamliel says that anyone who has not discussed three central symbols has not fulfilled the obligation of the seder. These are the Passover lamb, Pesach in Hebrew, representing freedom; matzah, representing poverty; and bitter herbs, maror in Hebrew, representing suffering.
I have been out of jail [in Israel] for a few weeks now. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate my freedom after what I have been through. I take nothing for granted…My only wish is to remain free. Please, just leave me my freedom and let me live my life in peace.—Testimony of an anonymous refugee from Eritrea
When we reached Sinai, our traffickers raised the bounty, demanding that our families pay $30,000 each… I now work in a big house and do whatever is asked of me…I work 10 hours a day, six days a week, earning $71 per day…What is most important to me now is paying off my debt. My family borrowed money from so many people to secure my freedom from the torture camp in Sinai, money that needs to be repaid.—Testimony of an anonymous refugee from Eritrea.
The Israeli government has imposed restrictions making it difficult for asylum seekers to work, so paying back these debts while paying for food and shelter is an extraordinary challenge.
Many among us were tortured…in Sinai. When we reached this democratic State of Israel, we didn’t expect such harsh punishment in prison...We lost all hope and became frustrated by this situation, so that we ask you to either provide us with a solution or send us to our country, no matter what will happen to us, even if we have to endure [the] death penalty by the Eritrean regime.—Testimony of an anonymous refugee from Eritrea
--Rabbi Menachem Creditor, Congregation Netivot Shalom, Berkeley, CA
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’olam, asher kidshanu bemitvotav vetzivanu al netilat yadayim.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדָיִּם.
Blessed are You ETERNAL our God, Master of time and space, who has sanctified us with commandments and instructed us regarding lifting up our hands.
Hamotzi thanks God for bringing bread from the earth. This bread results from a partnership between God and humanity: God provides the raw materials and people harvest, grind, and bake. So too must we remember that combating human trafficking requires partnerships: among survivors, allies, lawyers, social workers, law enforcement, diplomats, people of faith…the circles of involvement are ever-expanding.
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’olam, hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ.
Blessed are You ETERNAL our God, Master of time and space, who brings forth bread from the earth.
How is this night different from all other nights? Tonight we come together, as members of different communities, to learn from each other, to bring attention to the plight of asylum seekers in Israel, and to strengthen our resolve to advocate for their rights. Tonight’s Four Questions are a starting point for small group conversation.
1. What is your family’s exodus story?
2. How does your exodus story shape your worldview? Your sense of responsibility for the Other?
3. How would you describe your relationship with Israel?
4. What does justice look like for you?
Just as we search for the afikoman, we seek out the injustice in our societies, the hidden as well as the revealed, and organize to transform these dark places into ones filled with light. We seek within ourselves for the places where we are complicit in injustice and pledge to do better. And we search out the places where we are hurt or angry and wash these away, so we may proceed with calm and renewed determination.
We say the blessing and drink the cup of conversation.
Blessed is the creator of the fruit of the vine.
We fill the fourth cup, the cup of song, and join in singing songs of celebration, struggle, and solidarity.
We shall overcome.
We shall overcome.
We shall overcome some day!
Deep in my heart, I do believe,
We shall overcome some day.
Michael row the boat ashore, halleluyah…
Sister help to set the sails, halleluyah…
Sinai desert is hot and wide, halleluyah,
I’ve got a home on the other side, halleluyah…
Prison walls are thick and tall, halleluyah...
Hold the body but not the soul… halleluyah...
When Israel was in Egypt land—Let my people go!
Oppressed so hard they could not stand—Let my people go!
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land.
Tell old Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”
When refugees crossed Sinai’s sand—Let my people go!
Sought safety in the Promised Land—Let my people go !
Go down, Moses, way down in Israel land.
Tell the Knesset, “Let my people go!”
Yesh lanu koach, halleluyah…
[We have strength!]
After singing these or other songs, we say the blessing and drink the cup of song:
Blessed is the creator of the fruit of the vine.
At the end of the seder, we pour—but do not drink—a fifth cup for Elijah the prophet, who symbolizes the coming of salvation.
Jointly we can bring salvation; change is coming, but it is not yet here. We come together at Passover to connect our separate stories into the story of new freedom. We must cross the wilderness of change before we can enter a promised land of greater justice, greater freedom, greater peace, and deeper healing.
Next year in a Jerusalem rebuilt with justice!
Leshanah haba’a biYerushalayim hab’nuyah!
by Rabbi Gilah Langner
The Exodus story is fundamental to Judaism. The liberation from Egypt defines us as a people. As a touchstone for Jewish identity, it was our essential passage as we prepared for revelation. We do not reenact the Exodus story only once a year during Pesach. Our liturgy has us sing the great Song of the Sea every morning, to signal our daily redemption from slavery. Redeeming those who remain captive and preventing future enslavement must be our moral imperative every day.
Hoshech : The Plague of Not Seeing. The ninth plague – hoshech, or darkness, that covered the Egyptians’ habitations must have been terrifying indeed. The Egyptians couldn’t see; our tradition describes this darkness as so thick that you could touch it, feel it. And yet, long before the plague itself descended, the Egyptians had trouble seeing what was going on around them. They refused to see the humanity of the slaves who were building the legacy of Egypt with backbreaking unpaid labor; they ignored the institution of slavery that made possible the amassing of wealth in their society. A willful blindness had spread through the land even before the plague of darkness was unleashed.
We too, in our own days, often choose darkness when we do not want to see. We ignore the exploitation of domestic workers in our midst. We don’t look past the cheap consumer goods we eagerly scoop up to pause and ask about how they are made, and by whom. We close our eyes to the fact that 27 million people live in conditions of slavery in our world today.
As we recount the plagues at our Seder tables this year, let us open our own eyes to the slavery that we too often fail to see.
Environmental Destruction and Slavery. For centuries, commentators on the Bible have tried to explain the plagues recounted in the Book of Exodus. Some modern scholars have theorized that a volcano on the Greek island of Santorini in the 16th century B.C.E. might have precipitated a chain reaction, complete with lightning and hailstorms, and an ash cloud that could have blotted out the light of the sun. Even if geology and archaeology were to yield “explanations” for the plagues, their meaning for us transcends such explanations. Perhaps with the recounting of the plagues, the Torah is pointing out a profound connection between slavery and environmental turmoil. The dramatic upheaval in the natural world that the plagues represented – an apparent reversal of the laws of nature – was needed to “wake the Egyptians up” to the abomination of slavery.
Present-day slavery also promotes the violation of the natural world. Greed and the drive for power fuel both the human slave trade and a profound disregard for the quality of our environment. As stewards of the earth, we must fight against slavery as well as the environmental destruction that is a by-product of throwaway human labor.
Moses. If you search the traditional Haggadah, you won’t find the name of the man who led the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses is strangely absent, written out of the annual ritual of reenactment. The Torah tells us that Moses was the most humble of men, but surely this is taking humility too far! The message in Moses’s silence, though, is clear: we cannot wait for a Moses before tackling the problem of modern slavery. We are not free to defer action until a prominent leader, celebrity or powerful politician leads the way. The fight against modern slavery and trafficking is in our hands.
B’farech. The Torah uses a curious word to refer to the enslavement of the Israelites: Va-ya’avidu Mitzrayim et Bnei Yisrael b’farech. The Egyptians enslaved the Israelites with hard labor. An alternative reading of the term b’farech is b’feh rakh – “with soft words.” That is, the Egyptians deceived the Israelites about their intentions, using false promises and deceptions. By the time the truth was revealed, it was too late; we were already enslaved.
How often we see this today when modern slave owners speak with “soft words”. They might promise parents they will look after their children, but reduce those children to hideous servitude and prostitution. Slave owners in dozens of countries lure people into service by offering a loan to “help them out” in an emergency. The needy are then paid a pittance and charged high interest rates on the “loan”. These victims can never repay the loan, and may enslave their children as well as themselves on account of those “soft words”. B’farech.
Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart. For years I have been troubled by God’s “hardening of the heart” of Pharaoh. Why did God continue to harden Pharaoh’s heart, especially if God knew the eventual outcome of Israel’s pleas for freedom? Did Pharaoh have any hope of changing his mind and embarking on a path of repentance? It seemed to me as though God was, as it were, bullying Pharaoh, or at least propping him up each time in order to land another punch.
But perhaps we are meant to understand by this phrase something about the true nature of slave ownership. Perhaps it requires a permanently hardened heart to perpetuate the monstrous institution of slavery. Look at slave owners around the world today for examples of the hardening of the human heart.
Core of Slavery. Our rabbis tell us that Israel underwent three critical experiences related to slavery: first, we were strangers in strange land ( gerut) ; second, we were enslaved and forced to work ( avdut ); and third, we were afflicted ( inui ), which means subjected to harsh conditions and a loss of human dignity.
Although millennia have passed, these experiences are still at the core of modern slavery. Across the continents of Asia, Africa, and elsewhere, people are transported from their homes by the threat or use of violence, deception, or coercion, and turned into gerim, strangers in foreign lands. The loss of one’s home and freedom of movement allows for enslavement ( avdut) at the hands of ruthless slave owners, and results in a lifetime of poverty, hard labor, and forced servitude. Finally, the humiliation and loss of personal dignity that is inui is a daily experience for millions, particularly women and young girls.
Today it is we who must become the redeemers. Our freedom comes with the responsibility for liberating others who remain enslaved now, at Passover, and throughout the year, until every human being can enjoy the dignity of freedom.
It is very sad that we have an expert on modern-day slavery in our world, but E. Benjamin Skinner is that person. He has been writing and studying slavery since 2001 and I begin with a chilling excerpt from a March 23, 2008 op-ed that he wrote in the LA Times:
Let me be clear: By "slaves" I mean, very simply, those who are forced to work, un- der threat of violence, for no pay beyond subsistence. That is the nice, neat, horrible defi- nition I have used since I began studying the subject in 2001. In the United States today, we tend to use the word "slave" loosely. Merriam-Webster offers as its first definition of the word, "drudgery; toil."
But that's not what slavery is, as Rambho Kumar can attest. Kumar was born into wilting poverty in a village in Bihar, the poorest state in India, the country with more slaves than any other, according to U.N. estimates. In 2001, desperate to keep him and his five brothers from starving, his mother accepted 700 rupees ($15) as an advance from a local trafficker, who prom- ised more money once 9-year-old Rambho started working many miles away in India's carpet belt.
After he received Rambho from the trafficker, the loom owner treated his new acquisition like any other low-value industrial tool. He never allowed Rambho and the other slaves to leave the loom, forcing them to work for 19 hours a day, starting at 4 in the morning. The work itself tore into Rambho's small hands, and when he whimpered in pain, the owner's brother stuck his finger in boiling oil to cauterize the wound -- and then told him to get back to work. When other boys attempted escape or made a mistake in the intricate de- signs of the rugs, which were destined for Western markets, the owner beat them sav- agely.
On July 12, 2005, local police, in coordination with activists supported by Free the Slaves, an organization based in Washington, liberated Rambho and nine other emaci- ated boys.
I've met and talked with slaves and former slaves like Rambho in a dozen countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Romania, India, Sudan and Haiti. The International Labor Organization of the United Nations estimates that in Asia alone, there are about 10 million slaves.
While Passover is mostly associated with the wonderful foods and flow of the Seder, fam ily and friends coming together, finding the Afikomen and not eating chametz, the deepest and most profound issue at the heart of this holiday is slavery, past and present. Over and over again, more than any other matter in the Torah, we are reminded that we were once slaves in the land of Egypt and so we must take care not to treat others as slaves, or allow slavery to exist in our world, for we know what it was like to be those slaves. And yet, for all of the amazing free- doms and liberties that we have gained, especially here in the United States, we will sit down to our sederim this year with the knowledge that over 27 million human beings today, 2010, are slaves. I would imagine that the majority of us would find this horrifying and unbelievable, so the question for our sederim this year is: are we are aware and what can we do about it?
The Mishnah in Pesachim 10:5 gives us one of the more challenging tasks of the seder, dare I say of the whole Pesach experience: “In every generation, we are obligated to see our- selves as if we personally went out from Egypt.” We read this in the haggadah, but do we embody it? I know that I often ask people to think about the things in our lives that we are “enslaved to,” such as time, technology, bad habits, fear, etc. For us moderns, this is as close as many of us can come to feeling like a slave. And while this is an important exercise to engage in, perhaps we can take it further this year and spend more time talking about the fact that we live with slaves in our midst. In fact, low-end Justice Department estimates speculate that there are at least 60,000 people in America living as hidden slaves. Commenting on the above mishnah, Maimonides teaches us, “Remember you were a slave means, 'it is as though you personally were a slave and went to freedom and were redeemed.'” While we might not be actual slaves ourselves, we live in a world that accepts slavery, if not outright then tacitly, and Rabbi Heschel implores us to remember, “In a free society, some are guilty but all are responsible.” We should all be talking about this issue of modern day slavery at our sedarim this year.
How could this have happened? How could we arrive at the 21st century and have more slaves today than ever before in history? Just sixty years after the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, article 4 proclaimed, “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms,” we wake up to find ourselves not living in a world of our dreams and hopes, but rather we find ourselves in a world of our greatest nightmare and fears. Passover is a time to shake ourselves free from the doldrums of habit, passive acceptance of evils and ills that we choose to pretend don‟t exist, and wake up not only to the rights of being a free people, but to the responsibilities of being free people. Our right to be free cannot manifest itself by enslaving others, but that is sadly what has happened in our world. When we talk about these issues, push ourselves to face the ugliness that exists, we bet-ter ourselves and have the chance to better our world. Action begins with awareness.
To that end, I would like to close by returning to the expert, E. Benjamin Skinner, and a more recent article he wrote for Time magazine, highlighting the sex-slave trade that exists in South Africa. In a January 18, 2010 piece, Skinner writes, “While most [slaves] are held in debt bondage in the poorest regions of South Asia, some are trafficked in the midst of thriving development. Such is the case here in Africa's wealthiest country [South Africa], the host of this year's World Cup. While South Africa invests billions to prepare its infrastructure for the half-million visi- tors expected to attend, tens of thousands of children have become ensnared in sexual slavery, and those who profit from their abuse are also preparing for the tournament. During a three-week investigation into human-trafficking syndicates operating near two stadiums, I found a lucrative trade in child sex. The children, sold for as little as $45, can earn more than $600 per night for their captors. "I‟m really looking forward to doing more business during the World Cup," said a trafficker. We were speaking at his base overlooking Port Elizabeth's new Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. Already, he had done brisk business among the stadium's construction workers.”
As the world has done before, we are going to send millions of people, billions of dollars and invite the world to watch an international sporting event right in the heart of a city and country that is enslaving its children, participating in one of the uglier sides of our global underbelly. “In every generation, we are obligated to see ourselves as if we went forth from Mitzrayim.” This year, we owe it to the more than 27 million human beings, including millions of children, to truly acknowledge that slavery exists, take responsibility and then take action. I would urge you to have cards at your seder with the name of President Obama's Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, Luis CdeBaca, and ask them to contact him and express deep concern about the World Cup being held in a country where slavery is so prevalent. (http:// www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/124083.htm) Let us not avert our eyes for the sake of entertainment and business; let us see the world with the eyes of God this Passover and speak out against in- justice and slavery.
The Haggadah is the ultimate storybook of our people and within it we tell our own stories. We tell the stories of our families, the hopes and fears, dreams and realities; all are welcome at the seder. We stay up late into the night because our stories are so rich, so meaningful, so important to tell. We tell our children the stories so they know where they came from, how they made it to this moment in life, a story that begins with us being freed from Egypt and going forth into a relationship with God and humanity. We all like stories with happy endings, yet that is not always the reality in our world.
This Passover, please tell the story of Rambho Kumar, who I began with, because nobody will know about him if we don‟t tell his story. E. Benjamin Skinner cannot be the only one telling these stories. As Jews, we found freedom from slavery and were commanded to work to free others. There is much work to be done. May this Passover inspire us to work harder, speak louder and act bolder. Chag Sameach!
For more texts and resources on slavery in Jewish thought, visit www.truah.org
Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater is the senior rabbi of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center in Pasadena, CA. Read more of his writings at www.pjtc.net.
by Professor David Gushee
The Passover story communicates the fearsome commitment of God to the human rights of suffering people. Because Pharaoh would not let God’s people go, God finally inflicted that grievous last recompense on Pharaoh’s people, while passing over the households of the Jews whose liberation had been so long in coming.
This story reveals God as one who not only hears the cries of the oppressed, but delivers them from bondage into freedom. It shows a God who confronts injustice, including leaders who believe themselves to be so powerful as to be beyond critique or correction. It suggests that a nation that commits injustice and violates human rights (or passively allows its leaders to do so) ultimately will pay a price for it, even if for a long time it seems that such wickedness will last forever. That is true even if its injustices are inflicted in the name of national security, as were Pharaoh’s evil deeds; as are so many of our world’s greatest human rights violations.
In the Passover story, Egypt’s firstborn end up paying the price for Pharaoh’s sins. In the New Testament narrative, God takes the accumulated weight of injustice and human sin onto his own shoulders at the Cross. The community formed in response is then responsible for serving as a force for justice and healing so that there need be no more victims either of injustice or as collateral damage of the confrontation with injustice.
Together we await the healing of the world. Together we do our part to contribute to such a world.
As a Christian, Gushee understands Passover as a form of imitatio dei, imitating God’s demand for freedom from oppression. He connects Pharaoh’s actions, done in the name of protecting Egyptian security, to similar justifications for human rights violations in our own country.
Whom do we allow to be enslaved to protect our own interest and safety as Americans or as Jews?
Gushee writes: “a nation that commits injustice and violates human rights (or passively allows its leaders to do so) ultimately will pay a price for it, even if for a long time it seems that such wickedness will last forever.” In what ways is this true in our own country? In the world?
David P. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, and President of Evangelicals for Human Rights. He is the author or editor of 11 books on Christian ethics.
At the heart of a progressive Muslim interpretation is a simple yet radical idea: every human individual, female or male, Muslim or non-Muslim, rich or poor, of the “developed” North or “underdeveloped” South, has exactly the same intrinsic worth. The essential value of human life is God-given, and is in no way connected to culture, race, ethnicity, gender, geography, or privilege. A progressive Muslim is one who is committed to the strangely controversial idea that the true measure of a human being’s worth is a person’s character and not the oil under their soil or their particular flag. A progressive Muslim agenda is concerned with the ramifications of the premise that all members of the human race have this same intrinsic worth because each of us has the breath of God breathed into our being: /wa nafakhtu fihi min ruhi/. (Qur’an 15:29 and 38:72). This identification with the full humanity of all human beings amounts to nothing short of an Islamic Humanism, one that strives for affirming of dignity and sanctity of all human life through—and not outside—a religious context.
A goal of Passover is the simultaneous remembrance of our bondage in Egypt and God’s liberation of the Hebrews. While progressive Muslims honor the spiritual readings of bondage and liberation, they also insist that for billions around the planet, the bondage of Egypt is real in forms of poverty, occupation, exile, and humiliation. All of us deserve to worship a God who is committed to liberating all of God’s children. All of us deserve to enjoy this liberation, by the simple virtue of being human and being made in God’s image. An increasing number of those who advocate such a humanistic framework within the context of Islam have self-identified as progressive Muslims. ‘Progressive’ refers to a relentless striving towards a universal notion of justice in which no single community’s prosperity, righteousness, and dignity comes at the expense of another’s. Adherents of progressive Islam conceive of a way of being Muslim that engages and affirms the humanity of all human beings, that actively holds all of us responsible for a fair and just distribution of our God-given natural resources, and that seeks to live in harmony with the natural world. Safi introduces the idea of a humanistic framework allowing one to embrace the intrinsic worth of every individual. Such a progressive framework is seen as an inherent expression of an authentic Muslim identity. He concretizes the Passover story into the lived experience of the enslaved today. Professor Safi reminds us that for billions around the planet, the bondage of Egypt is real in forms of poverty, occupation, exile and humilliation. How do you remember those around the world who are "still in Egypt" during Passover? How does your religious identity compel you to embrace notions of universality?
by Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer
Celebrating the new year of the trees in wintry Philadelphia always seemed counter intuitive to me. When our children were small we aspired to mark the occasion by planting parsley in paper cups. Some years we did not get organized in time to buy the seeds, and some years we forgot about the plants and they went missing, but more often than we had any right to expect, the seeds germinated and by Pesach we had a small, improbable harvest of curly, green vegetables to put on the Seder plate.
The table is so laden with symbols that night, one wonders if it is possible to squeeze in yet another metaphor. But tasting that parsley was always one of my favorite moments. A child, some dirt, a few seeds in a Dixie cup... a living, edible plant! Each year, someone at the table would ask, “Why do we eat potatoes while pointing to the green parsley?” And someone else would say, “Because where our grandparents came from in Russia, the only “greens” that were available in April were potatoes. It was the best they could do; now it is a tradition.” Then we would eat wet, salty potatoes flecked with home-grown parsley and think about hardship and tears and about our ancestors who made their exodus out of Europe so that we could have children who farmed in paper cups—just for the wonder of it.
We wanted our children to grow up knowing that they were once slaves in Egypt (and poor enough to eat potatoes till summer), that it was upon them to remember that legacy, so they would know the heart of the slave, the immigrant, the prisoner, the hungry. Now our children are young adults, joining their efforts to redeem our sorry world. Is it too much to imagine that all those Seders gave them not only obligation but also a promise? Perhaps, during long winter slogs in the struggle for justice, they remember the taste of freshly picked parsley that sprouted against the odds, the taste of hope.
Reflecting on the experience of her own family, Fuchs-Kreimer’s focus is on the inspiration and hope that the celebration of Passover offers us. How does the Passover story or the memories of your family seders inspire you to repair the world?
Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.