Passover 2006: Every generation, Pharaoh; Every generation, Freedom

Dear Friends,

Passover is on its way. The First Seder falls on Wednesday night, April 12. Below we comment on several aspects of the holy season, and how it is significant today in our own generation -- for Jews, and also for other religious and secular communities.

But first, a few specific suggestions:

A. One New Question:

Why do we break the matzah in two?

Because the bread of affliction becomes the bread of freedom only when we share it. So long as a few grasp the overwhelming share of earth's abundance, flooding earth and air and water with the wastes from that indigestible luxury, our prosperity remains the bread of affliction, stirring rage and fear. Only when all can eat well and gently from the earth, will our bread become the bread of freedom.

B. Traditionally, we greet Elijah the Prophet as we open the door and share the cup that has been set aside for him. On the Shabbat just before Passover, traditionally we read the last passage from the Prophet Malachi (last of the Prophets), who says (speaking for God):

"Here! -- I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of YHWH --- And he will turn the hearts of parents to children and the hearts of children to parents, lest I come and strike the earth with utter destruction."

So first, either at the beginning when we pour Elijah's winecup or near the end when we open the door to receive him, someone at the Seder might briefly describe the dangers of destruction that we face through climate disaster and global scorching.

Then ask all the children under 13 to face and be faced by the congregation. First the older generation and then the younger recites the following:

"And I myself will become Elijah the Prophet, to turn the hearts of children and parents toward each other so as to turn aside from our lives the danger that the earth be struck with utter destruction. I pledge that I ----"

And then ask them to fill in, aloud or silently, what they will do.
C. The Freedom Plate

Several years ago, Martha Hausman proposed that a special plate be set aside next to the traditional Seder plate, on which could be placed physical objects brought by every participant in the Seder as a symbol of her/ his liberation THIS YEAR from Mitzrayym, the Tight and Narrow Space.

Mature and learned people, children, and people who have never before attended a Seder can all relate to this, and the stories about the objects on the Freedom Plate become a very powerful part of the Seder.

Soon after you begin, you might ask those present to begin lifting and explaining their freedom-object. One year in my own Seder it was a just-completed 500-page book MS for one person; for another, a single gold coin that his father had secretly brought out of Nazi Germany to forestall utter destitution; for another, a watch (about liberation from rigid time-rules); for another, nothing -- as an way of freeing himself from the rule that something should be brought.


D. For other such delicious flourishes of freedom, see on our Website:

Christian celebrations of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday (commemorating the Last Supper, traditionally understood as a Passover Seder), Good Friday, and Easter Sunday are rooted in the celebration of Passover by Jesus of Nazareth and his followers.

Indeed, one way to understand the Palm Sunday processions recorded in the Gospels is that Jews gathered in the Roman Empire's local sub-Capital, Jerusalem, to protest the oppressions of Roman rule –- and did it at Passover time to echo the overthrow of the oppressive Pharaoh.

Moreover, the African-American Christian community has drawn on the story of the Exodus in its own right, celebrating its delivery from slavery to freedom in countless sermons and songs.

The Quran includes rich teachings on Musa –- Moses -– the Prophet, peace be upon him.

And, as Michael Walzer showed in his book Exodus and Revolution, modern secular national and social revolutionary movements have also been explicitly inspired by the ancient story of the Exodus from Egypt.

This year, the overtones of Pharaoh are casting dark shadows upon American freedom.

Consider the way in which our present leaders -– or should we say rulers? -- have used top-down, unaccountable power in bringing about the Iraq War, worsening global scorching, enriching Big Oil, destroying New Orleans, shredding safety nets for the poor, undermining schools and health care for the middle class, giving tax breaks to the ultra-rich, and attacking immigrant rights, civil liberties, and human rights.

On The Shalom Center website are a number of resources for addressing these issues in Passover Seders and in Palm Sunday celebrations this year:

The New Freedom Seder (written by Rabbi Arthur Waskow) draws on Martin Luther King's great Riverside Church speech of April 4, 1967 and includes many songs of Passover, peace, and freedom. Dr. King's speech announced his vigorous opposition to the Vietnam War and warned that the three gigantic triplets of militarism, racism, and materialism were threatening American freedom.

Celebrating Palm Sunday in opposition to Caesar, war, and racial injustice.

The "Seder of the Children of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah," built from stories of pain and hope from the Bible and the Quran, and from the modern Israeli-Palestinian conflict and efforts toward peacemaking.

Text and graphics of the original Freedom Seder, written by Arthur Waskow in 1969.

The original Freedom Seder was the first in Jewish history to celebrate the liberation of other peoples as well as that of the Jewish people. It was written out of the pain and hope that followed the murder of Martin Luther King shortly before Passover in 1968, was published early in 1969 by a progressive magazine of the day, Ramparts, and was read and used by tens of thousands of young and other progressive Jews all across America.

In the years that followed, it became the model for many Haggadot ("Tellings" of the Passover story) that responded to the liberatory visions of many Jews – feminists, seekers of Israeli-Palestinian peace, environmentalists, and others.

The original Freedom Seder came off the printed page into reality on April 4, 1969, the first anniversary of Dr. King's death, when 800 people –- Jews, African-Americans, and white Christians –- took part in it at Lincoln Temple, a Black church in the heart of Washington. It was broadcast live by WBAI and excerpts were televised as an hour-long program by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The "New Freedom Seder" will be celebrated in Washington DC from 6 to 9:30 PM on Monday evening, April 3, at "Busboys and Poets," a progressive restaurant.

"Busboys and Poets" is at 2021 14th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009 (at U St.) The Shalom Center and Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq (CALC-I) will join with Busboys and Poets in sponsoring the Seder.

Tickets will cost $36 each. They will include provision of a full (vegetarian, mostly organic) meal as well as the traditional ritual foods and a copy of the NEW FREEDOM SEDER.

To assure a place at the Seder, call 202/387-7638 or write Space is limited; write or call as soon as possible.

Leaders of the Jewish community and African-American Christian and Muslim communities will join with activists of many backgrounds in leading the Seder. All who are present will take part in discussion and singing.

The location of Busboys and Poets bears an eerie connection to all these events: 14th and U St was the epicenter of the Black uprising on April 5, 1968, the day after Dr. King was killed. That uprising and the occupation of the city of Washington by the US Army led directly to the creation of the original Freedom Seder.

Shalom, Arthur

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