A Jewish seder table

Labor Seder

Last night I attended a labor Seder generously planned by the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice and the Beth Israel Center in Madison. I found it really inspiring. And there were two–yes, two–kinds of matzoh ball soup: Ashkenazic and Sephardic. Mmmmm. So, I thought I’d share a labor Seder with you, so you could be equally inspired. If you’ve never been to a Seder–or don’t know anything about the current struggle for worker rights–this will be quite a learning experience.

Taken from the Jews United for Justice website:

Why a Labor Seder?

We have come together at this time for many reasons. A traditional Passover Seder* 1 is a festive, ritual-rich meal in which we remember and reenact the ancient Jewish story of liberation from slavery in Egypt, a great struggle for freedom and dignity.

Tonight, we take note that this struggle for human freedom did not end with that Exodus. We come together to recognize that there are people in our midst who struggle every day for dignity and freedom in their work and in their lives as a whole.

Over the centuries, thousands of different versions of the Passover haggadah*, or “narrative,” have been written. This haggadah has been prepared to bring leaders and members of the Jewish, labor, and activist communities together to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. As we recount the tale, we will examine its relationship to the struggles of working people to improve their lives and the lives of their families, co-workers, and communities. The story of Passover is steeped in imagery that resonates for those who care about workers’ rights: persecution, oppressive taskmasters, impossible work demands, work quotas, and finally, a struggle for freedom.


B’CHOL DOR VA’DOR (In every generation): Responsive reading

Reader recites: Every year, in memory and celebration of an event that took place 35 centuries ago, Jews gather to retell the story of their deliverance from Egyptian bondage.

All recite: Yet the struggle for human freedom and dignity did not end with that exodus. Our story is the story of all people who have ever been in bondage, and this story compels us to work toward freedom for those who remain physically, spiritually, or economically enslaved.

Reader recites: Through the ritual retelling of our ancient enslavement and exile, we reaffirm our commitment to our own past and to our fight for justice for all people who have been excluded, expatriated, or expelled. We retell the story of the exodus to our children and to our grandchildren so that they, too, will understand the pain of slavery, the value of freedom, and the struggles of migration.

All recite: As the haggadah says,“From generation to generation, each of us is obligated to see ourselves as though we personally came out of the Land of Egypt.”

Reader recites: Because our ancestors were enslaved as “strangers” in the land of Egypt, we resolve to treat the “strangers” among us now with compassion. Because our families were immigrants to the United States, we resolve to fight for justice for those who are now immigrants to our country. Today we work in partnership with our allies to make our region a safe destination for immigrants and their families, where we protect everyone’s human and civil rights, and where all people can find a good job, earn a decent living, and provide for their families.


Table Discussion

Please introduce yourself to the community members at your table. Turn to the person seated next to you and share your family’s immigration stories: Why and when did your family immigrate to the United States? Did they leave their home country voluntarily? What kinds of work did your family members do when they first arrived in the United States? How did this work differ from what they did in their home countries? Who were the immigrants living in your community when you were growing up? What did you know about their stories? What was your relationship to them?


Blessing Over the First Cup of Wine

Fill the first cup of wine or juice. In a traditional Seder, we drink four cups of wine. Tonight, as we recite the blessing over each cup, we will honor immigrants in each stage of the immigration process. We raise this first cup and recite the blessing in honor of the courage it takes for immigrants to leave their home countries and settle in a new and foreign place.

בָּ רּוְך אַ תָּ ה יְיָּ, א -ֹלהֵ ינּו מֶ לְֶך הָּ עוֹלָּם, בוֹרֵ א פְ רִ י הַ גָּפֶ ן.

Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei p’ri hagafen.

Blessed are You, Source of All Life, Spirit of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine. Drink the first cup of wine.


Yachatz: Breaking the Middle Matzah

Take the middle piece of the three matzahs on the table, break it in half, and set aside one half. Matzah is called “the bread of affliction.” When we eat matzah during Passover, we are reminded of the plight of our ancestors who were forced to leave Egypt so quickly they did not even have time to let their bread rise. During the Seder we break the matzah in half. We then hide one half away and keep one half before us on the Seder plate so that as we tell the story of our affliction, we look at a visible symbol of that affliction. For many immigrants today, the middle matzah may symbolize families divided between their home countries and the United States, or families divided by detentions and deportations mandated by a broken U.S. immigration system.

As long as anyone in the world is afflicted, none of us can be whole. Yet the middle matzah is not just a symbol of despair. Half of the matzah is hidden away, and our meal cannot end until it has been found and enjoyed by every guest at the Seder. For although our lot may be a half-loaf and a broken world, as long as we seek justice and freedom for all, hope remains.


You can read the rest of the haggadah or print it out here





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