The Freedom Seder

Throughout Jewish history, there have been, and continue to be, variations of the traditional Haggadah for the telling of the story of Pesach, aka Passover. We have the traditional ones, Haggadahs centered around the experience of a particular marginalized group, and secular Haggadahs for kibbutzniks in Israel.

I have an original copy, dated from 1969-1970, of the Freedom Seder, developed by Arthur Waskow, rabbi, climate activist, and founder of the Shalom Center, an organization focusing on a Jewish response to social problems. The original edition, like all the other editions of the Haggadah, follows the traditional order f the Seder-the Seder plate, the washing of hands, the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the Four Cups, the Cup for Elijah, the Ten Plagues, the breaking of the Matzah, the Afikomen, etc. It also includes quotes from the great social justice leaders in history, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and AJ Muste, and it directs attention to the social justice issues of that day, such as war, Civil Rights, and pollution, along with quotes from contemporary singers and poets, such as Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg.

The beauty of the Freedom Seder is, you can adapt it to discussing the current social issues of this day, such as pollution, Civil Rights, and war-still important today as it was back in the ‘Sixties. The struggle for a just world is ongoing, and the Freedom Seder shows that the we have a tradition to guide us in our struggle, and a community to take part in the struggle.

traditional jewish matzo
Photo by cottonbro on
Hemperiffic Card

JLC Labor Seder

Just about every Jewish movement you can think of has its own variation of the Pesach Seder, which updates for modern times while being loyal to the Pesach message of the liberation of the Jews from “Mitzraim,” the Hebrew name for Egypt. (“Mitzraim” literally means “the narrow place,” the place of few opportunities and no where to move, the place of limitations.)

On Thursday, April 9, I went to the Labor Seder of the Philadelphia chapter of the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), an organization of Jewish trade unionists, organized in the 1930s to combat the rise of Fascism. This took place in the Calvary Center for Culture and Community, 48th and Baltimore Avenue. They had the traditional Seder place with the Maror, the Haroset, the Karpas, lamb bone, the salt water, and the Matzah, and the traditional blessings were said. But contemporary issues were addressed in the Seder, like the poor relations between law enforcement and minority communities, and police shooting unarmed African-American men.

The Haggadah also dealt with labor struggles earlier in American history, such as the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911, the organizing of farm workers, and the problems on inequality in this wealthy nation. “Mitzraim” is not something in the past, there are still places and problems with people stuck in narrow, limited situations; and there will always be people fighting to get out of them.