Passover guides serve up a side of social justice for the seder table
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'This resource is meant to fortify the Jewish community'

Passover guides serve up a side of social justice for the seder table

From a fifth cup of wine to 11 spilled drops -- and a call to action for dessert -- Jewish organizations publish readings on refugees, immigration, converts and the settlements

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Detail from Repair the World and the Jewish Multiracial Network's haggadah supplement (illustration by Louisa Bertman)
Detail from Repair the World and the Jewish Multiracial Network's haggadah supplement (illustration by Louisa Bertman)

Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers? For some Jews focused on social justice issues, it’s because of the world’s greatest refugee crisis since World War II. For others, it’s because this June marks the 50th anniversary of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank. And for some it’s the mere fact that Donald Trump is president of the United States.

The themes of political freedom, refugees, immigration and racial justice have long figured prominently at seder table discussions. This year, in the weeks leading up to Passover, which starts on the evening of April 10, Jewish social justice organizations have published new haggadahs and hagaddah supplements for use at seders.

Regardless of their format, the guides are all of the moment, addressing the most prominent social justice-related issues of our times. Some contain the entire service, while others include just parts of it, or provide suggested additional readings or new symbols to add to the seder. Most new seder resources are widely available and freely downloadable from the internet.

But the seder is not the ultimate goal. Most of the haggadahs and supplements end with a call to action.

Illustrative photo of an Israeli family seen during the Passover seder meal on the first night of the eight-day long Jewish holiday, in Tzur Hadassah on April 22, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash 90)
Illustrative photo of an Israeli family seen during the Passover seder meal on the first night of the eight-day long Jewish holiday, in Tzur Hadassah on April 22, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash 90)

“We hope that people will rise up from the seder table inspired to engage, support and advocate. What happens after the seder is ultimately more important than what happens at the seder itself,” said Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, vice president for community engagement at HIAS, which published a new Passover seder supplement on the global refugee crisis.

Here are a selection of new social justice-themed Passover haggadahs and supplements this year:

Global Aid: AJWS’s ‘Next Year in a Just World’

 

Following a positive response to a first edition published last year, American Jewish World Service has published an expanded, second edition of its “Next Year in a Just World” haggadah. Its 50 pages contain the main sections of the traditional seder service and burst with colorful photographs of the populations served by the organization’s projects worldwide.

AJWS president and CEO Robert Bank (Facebook)
AJWS president and CEO Robert Bank (Facebook)

Each part of the recounting of the Exodus from Egypt is related to modern-day global plagues such as the refugee crises and genocide, global hunger, poverty, violence against women and LGBT people, and the persecution of minorities. The haggadah reflects AJWS’s work at the intersection of Jewish concerns and values with the developing world and global issues, and its focus on helping the most vulnerable populations.

The Ha Lachma Anya (bread of affliction) reading, for instance, is linked to matters of widespread hunger and malnutrition, and the need to support local farming and economies.

“This second edition of our hagaddah is more expansive. It’s not just a supplement. It has all the fundamental elements of the hagaddah even though it is relatively short. It’s the only haggadah I plan on using at my family’s seder this year,” AJWS president and CEO Robert Bank told The Times of Israel.

AJWS's support enables these Ugandan girls to stay in school and learn about their health and rights. (Jonathan Torgovnik)
AJWS’s support enables these Ugandan girls to stay in school and learn about their health and rights. (Jonathan Torgovnik)

Bank said he was not surprised by the already strong interest in the haggadah’s updated edition.

“The new administration has caused us all to reflect on what what freedom is, and what it means to welcome the stranger. This is a very resonant moment for us as American Jews,” he said.

‘The new administration has caused us all to reflect on what what freedom is, and what it means to welcome the stranger’

Banks expressed concern that rising neo-nationalism, populism and authoritarianism in Western societies will give license to regimes in the 19 developing countries AJWS operates in to further oppress their people.

“We work in corners of the world where people are not looking and don’t see human rights violations,” Bank said.

It is AWJS’s hope that ‘Next Year in a Just World’ will keep the light shining on those areas and illuminate what is already being done to build a better world.

Refugees: HIAS’s Haggadah Supplement 2017/5777

 

To the staff at HIAS, the only Jewish organization whose mission is to assist global refugees, the Trump Administration’s “refugee ban” signaled an obvious need for a new haggadah supplement this Passover.

Rabbi Jennie Rosen, Vice President for Community Engagement at HIAS (courtesy)
Rabbi Jennie Rosen, Vice President for Community Engagement at HIAS (courtesy)

“It’s a critical time for a call to act on behalf of today’s refugees,” said Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, vice president for community engagement at HIAS.

The organization’s 10-page supplement highlights the resilience and agency of the world’s 65 million displaced persons and refugees.

“Our focus this year is on finding liberation amidst brokenness, and how to rebuild life within that context,” said Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, HIAS director of education for community engagement.

The supplement builds out three specific parts of the seder through the lens of the global refugee crisis. At the moment of Yachatz (the breaking of the middle matzah), seder guests can read about how refugees deal with their ruptured lives by picking up the pieces and forging ahead.

As guests sing Dayenu, they are asked to consider incomplete blessings and small miracles that help us get through difficult times. The supplement offers examples of precious possessions such as family photographs, cooking pots, cell phones, and trinkets from old friends that have physically and spiritually sustained refugees through their perilous journeys.

Activist Michele Freed joins other young professionals in front of the White House on Wednesday, March 1, 2017, to share stories of family members who were refugees or immigrants and wouldn’t be here if the U.S. hadn’t opened its doors to them. The action was organized by HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees. (Katie Jett Walls)
Activist Michele Freed joins other young professionals in front of the White House on Wednesday, March 1, 2017, to share stories of family members who were refugees or immigrants and wouldn’t be here if the U.S. hadn’t opened its doors to them. The action was organized by HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees. (Katie Jett Walls)

The section calling for “Next Year in Jerusalem” is presented in the contexts of refugees being resettled in a third country like the United States after a lengthy vetting process. The supplement brings the story of Mohammad Ay Toghlo and his wife, Eidah Al Suleiman from a village near Damascus, Syria.

“The family’s life in Buffalo is not free from difficulty, but they are beginning to pick up the broken pieces of the trauma they have experienced to fulfill new hopes and new dreams here in America,” the supplement reads.

‘There are so many issues of justice to fight for, and we are in this for the long haul’

HIAS also introduces two new refugee-related seder rituals. The first is to leave a pair of shoes on the doorstep of the house at the beginning of the seder “to acknowledge that none of us is free until all of us are free and to pledge to stand in support of welcoming those who do not yet have a place to call home,” the supplement states.

The second is to add a fifth cup of wine at the end of the seder to express prayers for the world’s refugees.

Rosenn hopes people will use the supplement in its entirety, but she will also be happy if they use just parts of it.

“This resource is meant to fortify the Jewish community… There are so many issues of justice to fight for, and we are in this for the long haul,” she said.

Immigration: Arizona Jews For Justice’s Haggadah Supplement

 

“I saw seder supplements about refugees, global aid and other subjects, but none on the immigrant issue, which I thought was something that was needed — especially given the current political climate,” said Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz about the impetus for the creation of Arizona Jews for Justice’s haggadah supplement.

The activist rabbi is founder and leader of Arizona Jews for Justice, a clearing house for Jewish activity on social justice issues and interfaith and inter-ethnic dialogue in the US southwest.

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz with Petra Falcon from Promise Arizona, which works to build immigrant and Latino political power, in January 2017. (Facebook)
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz with Petra Falcon from Promise Arizona, which works to build immigrant and Latino political power, in January 2017. (Facebook)

“Immigration issues are big for us because of what is going on with Trump and because we are on the border [with Mexico], where intolerance is very high and there are large numbers of documented and undocumented immigrants,” Yanklowitz told The Times of Israel.

Working with their Latino partner Promise Arizona, Arizona Jews for Justice put together a two-page haggadah supplement providing information on the undocumented population in the US and urging people to support hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying undocumented immigrants, and to act to prevent their mass deportation.

“Our Torah teaches that ‘When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,’ (Leviticus 19:33-34). This year, let us think about the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in danger of being deported from our land,” the supplement states.

Photo from Arizona Jews for Justice's Pesach Haggadah Supplement (Courtesy)
Photo from Arizona Jews for Justice’s Pesach Haggadah Supplement (Courtesy)

The supplement highlights the ritual of spilling drops of wine at the recitation of the Ten Plagues to recall the suffering of the Egyptians. It suggests that we spill an eleventh drop of wine at our seders this year “for the plagues of deportation, xenophobia, and baseless hatred against our fellow human beings.”

“Our celebration is diminished by the suffering and fear felt now by our undocumented immigrant neighbors,” the supplement reads.

‘It’s about building relationships and community’

Yanklowitz hopes the resource will be used nationally, but said it was aimed primarily at the local Jewish community.

“I have found that people are more empowered through local grassroots efforts than through national organizations. It’s about building relationships and community,” Yanklowitz said.

Yanklowitz expressed concern about a dissipation of energy he perceives in those who participate in the Jewish “resistance” to current socially conservative policies espoused by the Trump administration.

“The challenge now is to maintain the urgency, but at the same time not to burn out. Pesach is a good time to recharge our batteries, so to speak. Rituals are worthless if they don’t awaken a broader call to repair society,” he said.

Racial Justice: Repair the World’s ‘The Four Persons’

 

David Eisner, CEO of Repair the World. (Courtesy Repair the World)
David Eisner, CEO of Repair the World. (Courtesy Repair the World)

Repair the World, an organization for young people focused on service and dialogue around issues of racial, food and educational justice has issued a new haggadah supplement to replace the traditional reading of the Four Sons.

Titled, “The Four Persons,” the reading is part of the organization’s Act Now for Racial Justice campaign launched about a year ago.

“We expect it to be be used not only on Passover but also by young people at our Turn the Tables dinners in which they engage with peers from different communities in discussions on racial justice issues,” said Repair the World president and CEO David Eisner.

Replacing the sons who are wise, wicked, simple and who does not know how to ask are individuals who strive to engage in racial justice. They are the questioner, the newcomer, the Jew of color, and the avoider.

What does a questioner say? “I support equality, but the tactics and strategies used by current racial justice movements make me uncomfortable.”

What does a newcomer say? “How do I reach out and engage with marginalized communities in an authentic and sustained way?”

What does a Jew of color say? “What if I have other interests? Am I obligated to make racial justice my only priority?”

What does an avoider say? “I am so scared of being called a racist, I don’t want to engage in any conversations about race.”

While the answers to these questions incorporate biblical texts, this is undeniably a new and highly expansive twist on tradition.

“The Four People” was written by Jewish Multiracial Network and Repair the World with vibrant, striking illustrations by Louisa Bertman.

“There are very few, if any, places you can find illustrated representations of the diversity within the Jewish community from black, Asian, Sephardic, Mizrahi, gay, lesbian, transgender, and people of different abilities. Our intention was to show this prominently in our piece as a way of welcoming people in and showing that Judaism does not have a singular ‘look,'” said Eisner.

The Occupation: SISO’s The Jubilee Haggadah

 

Save Israel, Stop the Occupation (SISO), a new global Jewish initiative supported by the New Israel Fund has published “The Jubilee Haggadah” marking the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

'The Jubilee Haggadah,' marking the 50th anniversary of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, is published by Save Israel, Stop the Occupation (SISO), a new global Jewish initiative supported by the New Israel Fund. (courtesy)
‘The Jubilee Haggadah,’ marking the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, is published by Save Israel, Stop the Occupation (SISO), a new global Jewish initiative supported by the New Israel Fund. (courtesy)

Edited by Israeli intellectual Tomer Persico, the guide’s title refers to the biblical injunction to proclaim liberty throughout the land on the fiftieth year. The moniker is also intentionally ironic, as while Jews are meant to rejoice at Passover, SISO finds nothing to celebrate about Israel’s continued military rule over 2 million Palestinians half a century after the Six Day War.

The haggadah, which has both Hebrew and English editions, hews to the traditional format and includes key traditional texts. However, its commentaries — provided by leading left-leaning rabbis, scholars, artists and thinkers — are anything but conventional.

“Of all people, Jews know the bitterness of being oppressed — and not being in our own country… I’m guessing oppression will always prove to be on the wrong side of history,” comedian Sarah Silverman writes in her contribution to the hagaddah. Other contributors include Amos Oz, Achinoam Nini, Leon Wieseltier, and Anat Hoffman.

It is a jarring experience to read a haggadah that links the tale of the ancient Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt so directly to the modern day occupation — and that is the point.

A Palestinian woman speaks with an Israeli soldier at the scene of an attack in which two Palestinians wounded an Israeli soldier in a knife attack before being shot dead by troops in the city center of the West Bank town of Hebron on March 24, 2016. (AFP/Hazem Bader)
A Palestinian woman speaks with an Israeli soldier at the scene of an attack in which two Palestinians wounded an Israeli soldier in a knife attack before being shot dead by troops in the city center of the West Bank town of Hebron on March 24, 2016. (AFP/Hazem Bader)

The illustrations by Michal Sahar Studio are also provocative. Reminiscent of simple blue and white drawing in haggadahs from earlier decades, many are of images not usually viewed at the seder table, such as the security wall, tanks, masked Palestinian rioters, Palestinian prisoners, and Palestinian and Israeli funerals.

‘This haggadah is an act of resistance to the shrinking space for discussion’

“This haggadah offers people a way to bring in the occupation in an authentic way that honors the seder,” said Libby Lenkinski, vice president for public engagement at NIF.

“And in Israel in particular, this haggadah is an act of resistance to the shrinking space for discussion and debate in the public sphere about the occupation,” she said.

According to Lenkinski, The Jubilee Haggadah (which can be purchased online and will be distributed in Israel as a supplement to the Haaretz newspaper), is a natural fit for Passover this year — and as long as the occupation continues.

“Challenging the occupation comes out of the deepest traditional Jewish values and aspirational Zionism,” she said.

Jewish Diversity: Be’Chol Lashon’s Ruth’s Cup

 

Finally, for those who are not up for a whole new haggadah or even a supplement, Be’Chol Lashon simply suggests a single new Passover ritual this year: Ruth’s Cup in honor of converts and Jewish diversity in general.

Illustration of 'Ruth's Cup' from the Be'Chol Lashon ritual handout. (courtesy)
Illustration of ‘Ruth’s Cup’ from the Be’Chol Lashon ritual handout. (courtesy)

“Many Jews assume that ‘real Jews’ look a certain way and have one path to Judaism — being born Jewish. When confronted with Jews who don’t fit these stereotypes, even well-meaning Jews may unwittingly treat them as less Jewish. Jews of color and/or those who have converted to Judaism find that ignorance can cause other Jews to act insensitively,” the organization, which promotes global Jewish diversity and inclusiveness, explains on its website.

Guests are urged to fill a cup of wine in honor of the biblical convert Ruth and place it alongside the traditional Elijah’s Cup. As guests open the door for Elijah, they also open it to welcome Ruth and all those who choose to join the Jewish people.

“We do not have to wait for the Messianic age to make sure that every Jew feels fully comfortable and integrated into our people, no matter what their skin, hair or eye color is; no matter what their name sounds like; no matter how they became Jewish-through birth or through conversion, as a child or as an adult,” guests are asked to declare before closing the door.

Malagasy women getting married after converting to Judaism, May 2016. (Deborah Josefson/JTA)
Malagasy women getting married after converting to Judaism, May 2016. (Deborah Josefson/JTA)
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