Passover When Earth Really Matters

Avi Katz: Matzah / Globe

 An Interfaith Healing Seder for the Earth: Ten Plagues, Ten Healings

Today, April 4, 2016, we are presenting a revised version of this Seder, originally published in 2013. Today is the 48th anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King in  1968. It is also the 49th anniversary of his most profound and troubling speech: “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” a speech he delivered in 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City to the assembled “Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam.”  In it he called on all Americans to struggle against the “deadly triplets” that he said afflict our lives: racism, militarism, and materialism.

And today is the 47th anniversary of the original Freedom Seder, which in 1969 radically altered the Seder’s focus by weaving the liberation struggles of Black America together with the ancient story of the Israelite liberation struggle out of slavery to Pharaoh.

The original Freedom Seder addressed the most urgent crisis of that day, and drew together Jews and Christians, black and white.  And in the decades since, for many many thousands of people it liberated the Passover Seder itself to address other deep issues: liberating us from immoral and self-destructive wars, affirming the rights of immigrants and of  people trafficked into the slave trade and of exploited workers, liberating us from fear and hatred among Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

To honor the memory and wisdom of Dr. King and to renew the life-giving energy of the Freedom Seder, today we are sharing with you a new Passover Seder. It challenges the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs of today that are bringing a new Ten Plagues upon our planet. And it celebrates the Ten Healings of our wounded Mother Earth that we should undertake. 

The Seder begins with a journey into the streets to challenge today’s Pyramids of Power.  Some may want to organize such a journey; others may simply want to use the Haggadah, the Telling, that we present below, in their family or community Seder. 

This year, on Friday, April 22, the first Seder begins in the evening of Earth Day. As befits a Seder for the whole Earth, this Telling is rooted in the Jewish tradition and includes in its flowering passages from other traditions.

Let me call your special attention to new approaches to the meaning of charoset and the welcoming of Elijah,  to the Ten Plagues and Ten Healings,  to a whole new song and a new verse in “Go Down Moses,” to a new translation and a new melody of an old psalm.

With blessings of freedom and community, of shalom, salaam, peace, Earth! --  Rabbi Arthur Waskow

“I felt as if my legs were praying.”

— Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, coming back home from the voting-rights March in Selma, Alabama, 1965
“Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods.”  — Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1970


The people gather at a central point, perhaps a synagogue.

The people move into the streets. Chanting and singing as they go, carrying a portable large-sized globe of Planet Earth,  they walk toward a Pyramid of Power of our own day: perhaps an office of Exxon or BP, or a coal-fired power station, or a bank that invests

1st-Borns, ReBirth, & Passing Over: My Own & All of Us

This year I am feeling haunted by one of the lesser-known aspects of Passover: On the morning before the First Seder –- which means this very morning –-- First-born sons (or in this generation, first-born children) are supposed to fast from daybreak till the Seder.  

We first-borns are released from this obligation if we study Torah and then conclude with a “seudat mitzvah” – a meal celebrating the fulfillment of a mitzvah, which means a commandment or a connection-making between ourselves and the Holy One of Being, the Breathing-Spirit of the world.

Why should we first-borns fast as we approach Passover? Presumably in grief, relief, and gratitude – grief for all the first-borns of Egypt, Mitzrayyim, the Tight and Narrow Place, who according to the Exodus story died that night, and in relief and gratitude that our families of the Godwrestling folk were spared the disaster.

So from 1971 or ’72 on, as I found my way through the Freedom Seder deeper and deeper into Passover and Torah, I have fasted –-- or studied Torah – during this day, in honor of the ancient story.

But this year I am feeling a more personal grief. In some strange way I am no longer a “first-born” -- because my younger brother died two years ago. Indeed, on his deathbed I said to him that he had become for me the older brother that he wished I had been for him. He nodded, using the little breath left to him: “It’s true.”

Will Shale-Oil Trains Incinerate YOUR city? Phila Derailment Warning

In Philadelphia on Monday, January 20, 2014, seven tanker cars from a mile-long oil train derailed, carrying highly flammable & explosive Bakkan shale oil.

That type  of "oil bomb" train  has exploded and burned in five previous derailments just since last June, often in rural areas, killing 47 people.

There were no casualties in this derailment — but listen to a railroad exec:

E. Hunter Harrison, CEO of Canadian Pacific, said on January 15th, 2014, “The 111 tank cars that you hear so much about, if I was calling the shots would be stopped tomorrow,” Harrison said, speaking with Tyler Matheson on CNBC’s Nightly Business Report. “They’re not ready, they’re not equipped for that commodity [Bakken Shale crude] as I see it, they’ve been controversial for two decades now, so that needs to change.”

What can we do to end this danger and heal our society from the Plagues that are being brought upon us by the Pharaohs of today?

The Shalom Center joins with the Philadelphia chapter of Interfaith Power & Light, Protecting Our Waters, Clean Air Council, the Catskill Mountainkeeper, and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, in calling for a halt to these dangerous trains — here and everywhere --  carrying fracked oil and gas.

Philadelphia Interfaith Power & Light, with strong involvement of The Shalom Center, has decided to organize a vigorous nonviolent challenge to the Bakken Oil transports  during the week before Passover/ Holy Week, in April 2014. The action will draw on the meaning of those festivals in  challenging the ancient Pharaohs and Caesars who brought plagues upon the earth and their own societies, by challenging the Carbon Pharaohs of Big Coal, Big Oil, & Big Gas that are causing similar plagues today.

But this is not just a Philadelphia concern. Bakken shale oil trains run thrpugh many major cities, and they have derailed in Canada and the Western US.  Other Carbon Plagues include droughts in the US corn belt, super-storms, and other extreme weather events that owe their intensity to Global Scorching.

 The week just before Palm Sunday and Passover offers an extraordinary moment for people all over America to challenge these plagues and the Pharaohs that put profits before people or the earth that sustains us all.

To stand against the Ten Plagues of today, we must set Ten Healings —  sacred action by all our communities. We must move our bodies to stop these dangerous trains from  moving;   we must Move Our Money to Protect Our Planet — moving our bank accounts, our investments, our covenant with God  away from supporting the Carbon Pharaohs and instead supporting the Healing Power of the sun and wind.”

If you are interested in working to plan and organize a pre-Passover/ Holy Week action in your community, please click here:  <>

 The derailment last week occurred in a densely populated neighborhood, over a major highway, near several large universities, Children’s Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania medical complex. Rapid evacuation of a five-mile radius from any future oil train explosion and fire in the Philadelphia area, or any urban area, would be impossible. When a similar train exploded

Occupy Holy Week, Occupy Passover: Dancing in the World-wide Earthquake

Flyer  for Philadelphia event: Occupy Holy  Week & Passover, April 1

[Click on the graphic to expand it.]

Can Religion be Transformative?

Can we Empower the 99%, Democratize the 1% ?

Plans are under way in Philadelphia & New York City for an action to “Join with Occupy: Celebrate  Holy Week & Passover.”   People of faith could undertake actions like it all across the country.

Netanyahu, Obama, & the Addictions of Pharaoh

Why choose right now to urge putting half the present US military aid to Israel in escrow, to be paid out starting after the Israeli government ends the blockade of civilian goods from entering Gaza , and to be paid for resettling settlers in decent homes and neighborhoods inside Israel proper?

The proposal also calls for strong insistence by the US for a full peace treaty between Israel and Arab states, guaranteeing Israel's security.

(See the proposal in the "Bold Action" essay on our Home Page.)

"Avatar," Exodus, & Kabbalah

The film AVATAR weaves together what we usually call the spiritual and the political. Indeed, whether its director realized it consciously or not, AVATAR echoes two major strands of religious wisdom that began in Jewish thought but have had deep influence on cultures far beyond the boundaries of Jewish peoplehood. The two strands of ancient wisdom are "archetypal" -- that is, they appear over and over again in human thought because they arise in human experience and yearning -- with or without conscious transmission of the stories.

Freedom Seder --expanded 2d edition (1970)

The original Freedom Seder was published in 1969 by Ramparts magazine, thanks to the editorial creativity of Warren Hinckle and Robert Scheer, and in a tiny pocket-size booklet by a tiny independent publishing house -- the Micah Press -- out of contributions from the Waskow household and other members of Jews for Urban Justice in Washington DC.


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