Jis 0416 freedom seder social justice protest qmr2ow

The haggadah. You’ve got your loved, charoset-stained Maxwell House one. Then there’s the traditional ArtScroll and Koren, the illuminated Birds Head and Sarajevo. Then you have the haggadot of freedom, feminism, and equality; Soviet haggadot, post-Holocaust haggadot, interfaith haggadot, Israeli haggadot, and Middle East peace haggadot. Don’t forget the Traditional Egalitarian Haggadah, the New Traditional Egalitarian Haggadah, and the New American Haggadah. Then there’s the Unorthodox Haggadah, devoid of references to God and full of “snarky wit”; the Baseball Haggadah; the Holistic Haggadah; the Sixty-Minute Seder; the Thirty-Minute Seder; interactive haggadot and family haggadot; and Haggadah Good Feeling About This: Passover Guidance for Confused Jews. Even Cokie Roberts has her own haggadah. And if you can’t find one you like, you can make one at haggadot.com.

Here’s the thing: every haggadah follows the same script. Is any holiday more prismatic than Passover, with entirely different meanings refracted depending on the angle of the light?

“We’re commanded to tell our children — even if we’re all wise and learned — we are commanded to tell it as if we were there,” says Rabbi Aaron Meyer of Temple De Hirsch Sinai. “The publishing of haggadot that challenge us has been a long-standing endeavor.”

Starting with Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s 1969 Freedom Seder, when 800 Jews and African Americans held a seder on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Passover has been a time to think about modern struggles. Haggadot have emerged around current social justice issues, like human trafficking, socially responsible chocolate, childhood hunger, sexual assault, mass incarceration, and LGBTQ liberation. Every other year the Federation holds a legislative seder in Olympia to address issues like hunger, mental health, inequality, and immigration. AJC will hold its annual interfaith seder, and Seattle Against Slavery, which fights human trafficking, is developing Passover programming.

This year, Hillel at the University of Washington will host a seder with Project Feast, which helps immigrant women develop catering businesses. The women will share their own exodus stories throughout the evening. “The students at Hillel UW have really been excited about rallying around the issue of immigration and are working hard with me and other folks on campus to make immigration issues a bigger issue on campus,” Elana Fruchtman, Hillel’s social justice coordinator, says. “I think immigration is not only a thing of the past for Jews, but it’s part of our present. It’s very real for us.”

In an echo of the Freedom Seder, the Black Lives Matter movement has impacted Passover consciousness. In 2015, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice produced a #BlackLivesMatter haggadah, with “Dayenu” flipped — “If we had marched, chanted, listened, learned and engaged in this new civil rights movement and not realized that this story is our story, including our people and requiring our full participation — Lo Dayenu.” This and similar haggadot call on the Jewish community to return to the front lines of marches with African American allies.

Jis 0416 freedom seder book cover sr4tqe

The Freedom Seder, 1969

The link between Passover and activism arguably took off with the Freedom Seder, Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s pivotal haggadah uniting Jews and African Americans

Meyer, who gave a provocative Yom Kippur sermon about racial inequality, challenges the Jewish community to join a much-needed, new conversation about race. Jews, he notes, were once integral to the civil rights movement, but that relationship deteriorated after the work seemed “done” and the Jewish community pivoted its focus to advocacy for Israel. “For the black movement this was an abandonment,” Meyer says. “I don’t think we’ve ever done that repair work.”

For Tacoma-based Erika K. Davis, the Jewish Multiracial Network Pacific Northwest volunteer and owner of the blog “Black, Gay, and Jewish,” Passover is also a time to think about Jews of color in our own communities. “As a person of color, I come to Judaism with that realization that my Jewish experience isn’t the same experience as a white person with European roots,” she says. “It’s easy, as Jews, to be like, ‘Let’s help this community of color here,’ but it’s hard to go the other way around and look at Jews of color within.”

But there’s no need to limit the conversation to the haggadah. “The Freedom Seder has been around since the 1970s, and that’s all well and good, [but the topic] shouldn’t be specific to Passover,” she says. “My challenge is what we do the other weeks of the year. Why aren’t we having those conversations for Purim or during Sukkot?”

Meyer and Fruchtman also hope the holidays can serve as jumping-off points for important conversations. “It’s not about the freedom that was, but the freedom we have to continue to work to extend,” Meyer says. “We’re not aspiring to do good here to ascend to heaven, but to bring God to Earth.”

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