Labor Seder at Germantown Jewish Center

Last night I attended the Second Annual Bobbi Willig Memorial Labor Seder, sponsored by the Philadelphia Chapter of the Jewish Labor Committee, held at the Germantown Jewish Centre, 400 W. Ellet Street. The theme of the Seder this year was “A woman’s Place Is In Her Union,” and we honored two outstanding labor women-Laura Wentz, past President of the Philadelphia chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), and Nicole Fuller, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Area Project for Occupational Safety and Health (PHILAPOSH).

Rabbi Ari Witkin led the religious portion of the service. An estimated 60 to 70 people attended; these included representatives of Philadelphia CLUW, PHILAPOSH, UFCW Local 1776, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT), and a presentation by Cindy Heyward, Recording Secretary and Legislative Director of the Philadelphia Area Local, American Postal Workers Union (APWU).

The purpose of the Labor Seder is to commemorate the struggles of working and minority people in the world and the nation, tying them to the Passover story of the Israelites leaving oppression in Egypt. We had the custom of dipping out the drops of wine to remember the plagues that fell on Egypt-blood, frogs, lice, flies, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the death of the first-born-along with plagues we suffer through today-child labor, slave labor, sweatshops, hunger, below-subsistence wages, sexism, racism, ethnic cleansing, domestic violence, and indifference to human suffering. (And these are not all the plagues we have in the world.) It’s always the rank-and-file people who suffer from the ignorance of their leaders.

Nicole Fuller, left, and Laura Wentz, honorees of the 2019 Labor Seder.

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Labor Seder in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia chapter of the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC)-of which I am a proud member-will hold the Second Annual Bobbi Willig Memorial Labor Seder, at the Germantown Jewish Center, 400 W. Ellet Street, on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.

The theme of the Seder this year will be “A Woman’s Place Is In Her Union.”

The Jewish Labor Committee (http://jewishlabor.org/) was formed in the 1930s as a bridge between the Jewish Community and the organized Labor movement, and as part of the struggle of that era against Fascism (like we’re going through today). The Labor Seder is a program connecting the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to current struggles for life and dignity in the workplace in this era.

For further information,and to purchase tickets, please contact Michael Hersch, (215)668-5454, or mhersch@comcast.net.

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.