Passover Readings

Suggested Bulletin Article

At this time of Passover, we recall in the Seder that “in every generation, we are commanded to view ourselves as if each one of us was personally brought forth out of Egypt.” The purpose of such memory is to remind us of the feeling of being a slave. More important, this command, combined with the rejoinder to “remember the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt,” is a call to action. It is a call for us to rise up against slavery and tyranny in our own time.

Most people don’t know that slavery still exists. But it does. From Khartoum to Calcutta, from Brazil to Bangladesh, men, women, and children live and work as slaves or in slave-like conditions. In fact, today there are 27 million documented slaves. Indeed, there may be more slaves in the world than ever before.

In Sudan, Africa’s largest country, on-going civil war and inter-ethnic conflict has revived government-sponsored black chattel slavery, where south Sudanese women and children are abducted as slaves by government-armed Arab militia forces. Over 100,000 remain in bondage today, serving as domestics and concubines.

Rabbi Joel Soffin of Temple Shalom in Succasunna, NJ wrote the following prayer to be included in the Passover Seder. We encourage all members of our synagogue to share this prayer with their families and friends at the Seder table. (You may say this prayer at any point during the Seder. We recommend saying it after the Bread of Affliction reading (Ha Lachma Anya), which immediately precedes the Four Questions.)

On this holiday when we are commanded to relive the bitter experience of slavery, we place a fourth matzah with the traditional three and recite this prayer:

(Recite while holding the Fourth Matzah)

“We raise this fourth matzah to remind ourselves that slavery still exists, that people are still being bought and sold as property, that the Divine image within them is yet being denied. We make room at our Seder table and in our hearts for those in southern Sudan and in Mauritania who are now where we have been.

We have known such treatment in our own history. Like the women and children enslaved in Sudan today, we have suffered while others stood by and pretended not to see, not to know. We have eaten the bitter herb; we have been taken from our families and brutalized. We have experienced the horror of being forcibly converted. In the end, we have come to know in our very being that none can be free until all are free.

And so, we commit and recommit ourselves to work for the freedom of these people. May the taste of this ‘bread of affliction’ remain in our mouths until they can eat in peace and security. Knowing that all people are Yours, O God, we will urge our government and all governments to do as You once commanded Pharaoh on our behalf: ‘Shalach et Ami! Let MY People Go!'”

This Pesach, as we recall our own slavery, we recommit ourselves to fight for freedom of all who are enslaved, wherever they are.

Special Seder Prayers
1.

Rabbi Joel Soffin of Temple Shalom in Succasunna, NJ wrote the following prayer to be included in the Passover Seder. We encourage all members of our synagogue to share this prayer with their families and friends at the seder table. (You may say this prayer at any point during the seder. We recommend saying it after the Bread of Affliction reading (Ha Lachma Anya), which immediately precedes the Four Questions.)

On this holiday when we are commanded to relive the bitter experience of slavery, we place a fourth matzah with the traditional three and recite this prayer:

(Recite while holding the Fourth Matzah)

“We raise this fourth matzah to remind ourselves that slavery still exists, that people are still being bought and sold as property, that the Divine image within them is yet being denied. We make room at our seder table and in our hearts for those in southern Sudan and in Mauritania who are now where we have been.

We have known such treatment in our own history. Like the women and children enslaved in Sudan today, we have suffered while others stood by and pretended not to see, not to know. We have eaten the bitter herb; we have been taken from our families and brutalized. We have experienced the horror of being forcibly converted. In the end, we have come to know in our very being that none can be free until all are free.

And so, we commit and recommit ourselves to work for the freedom of these people. May the taste of this ‘bread of affliction’ remain in our mouths until they can eat in peace and security. Knowing that all people are Yours, O God, we will urge our government and all governments to do as You once commanded Pharaoh on our behalf: ‘Shalach et Ami! Let MY People Go!'”

2.

After the meal has been eaten, ask everyone to stand, stretch their arms and legs and recite the following blessings of liberation:

“Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, Master of the universe, Who releases those bound up.”

Barukh Attah Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh ha-Olam, Mateer Asureem.

“Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, Master of the universe, Who made me free.”

Barukh Attah Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh ha-Olam,she-Asanee Ben/Bat Khoreen.

3.
A Toast To Freedom

By Leonard Fein

Reprinted from The Family Participation Haggadah: A Different Night by Noam Zion and David Dishon

Each cup we raise this night is an act of memory and of reverence. The story we tell, this year as every year, is not yet done. It begins with them, then; it continues with us, now. We remember not out of curiosity or nostalgia, but because it is our turn to add to the story.

Our challenge this year, as every year, is to feel the Exodus, to open the gates of time and become one with those who crossed the Red Sea from slavery to freedom.

Our challenge this year, as every year, is to know the Exodus, to behold all those in every land who have yet to make the crossing.

Our challenge this day, as every day, is to reach out our hands to them and help them cross to freedomland.

We know some things that others do not always know – how arduous the struggle, how very deep the waters to be crossed and how treacherous their tides, how filled with irony and contradiction and suffering the crossing and then the wandering.

We know such things because we ourselves wandered in the desert for forty years. Have not these forty years been followed by 32 centuries of struggle and of quest? Heirs to those who struggled and quested, we are old-timers at disappointment, veterans at sorrow, but always, always, prisoners of hope. The hope is the anthem of our people (Hatikvah), and the way of our people.

For all the reversals and all the stumbling blocks, for all the blood and all the hurt, hope still dances within us. That is who we are, and that is what this Seder is about. For the slaves do become free, and the tyrants are destroyed. Once, it was by miracles; today, it is by defiance and devotion.

4.
Slavery in Our Time
A fifth question: Why is this night no different from all other nights?

By David Arnow

From the 2002 New Israel Fund Haggadah supplement, “From Darkness to Light”

When you’ve finished reading the Four Questions at your Seder, ask a participant to read the Biblical verses that follow, the Fifth Question, and the vignette about slavery as practiced in Pakistan. Then either summarize or lead a short discussion on the information that follows. (Much of this has been taken from Kevin Bales’ Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, © 1999 The Regents of the University of California.) Copy and distribute the section called “Four Things You Can Do to Help End Slavery.” Urge your guests to get involved with the issue!

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt … The Egyptians ruthlessly compelled the Israelites to toil with rigor … Ruthlessly, they made life bitter for them with harsh labor at mortar and bricks… (Deuteronomy 6:21 and Exodus 1:13-14).

A Fifth Question

Why is this night no different from all other nights? Because on this night millions of human beings around the world still remain enslaved, just as they do on all other nights. As we celebrate our freedom tonight, we remember those who remain enslaved.

Brick Making in Pakistan: A Vignette

Since the 1960s, an estimated 750,000 landless Muslim peasants have hand molded hundreds of millions of mud bricks each year in Pakistan. The bricks are fired in some 7,000 vast but primitive kilns spread throughout the country. With no other hope for sustenance, desperate families drift to kilns where they borrow money to buy food and tools from the owners. On a good day, a family will mold about fourteen hundred bricks for which they are paid two dollars. But their debts keep growing because kiln owners undercount the number of bricks produced, inflate the debt, and charge exorbitant prices for food and clothing. Impoverished families, including young children, work as a unit. Without putting their children to work, these families would sink even deeper in debt. Even so, most families incur debts they will never earn enough to repay. If kiln owners suspect that a family may be planning to run away, they take a child to another location as a hostage. According to one former kiln owner, “to intimidate brick makers, the owner just comes along and smashes all the freshly made raw bricks, a whole day’s work, for no reason. If a young worker lifts his head or causes trouble, they will put his leg in the kiln oven for a second to burn it. This is common and brick makers are forced to watch.” When a parent dies, the children inherit their mother’s or father’s debts, assuring another generation of bonded brick makers.

Now either briefly summarize the information that follows or describe the three current forms of slavery and lead a discussion asking participants to define slavery, estimate how many slaves there are in the world today, what factors allow slavery to persist, etc.

Current Forms of Slavery

•Slavery–a definition: the total control of one person by another for the purpose of economic exploitation. Slaves are controlled by violence and denied all of their personal freedom in order to make money or provide labor for someone else.

•Chattel slavery: closest to slavery as practiced during the transatlantic slave trade. A person is captured, born or sold into permanent servitude. Ownership is often asserted. Represents a small percentage of slaves, practiced in northern and western Africa and some Arab countries.

• Debt bondage: the most common form of slavery. A person pledges him- or herself against a loan of money, but the length and nature of the service are not defined and the labor does not reduce the original debt. Ownership is not normally asserted, but there is complete physical control over the bonded laborer. Most common in India and Pakistan.

•Contract slavery: the most rapidly growing form of slavery. Contracts are offered that guarantee employment, perhaps in a workshop or factory, but when the workers are taken to their place of work they find themselves enslaved. Most often found in Southeast Asia, Brazil, some Arab states and parts of the Indian subcontinent.

How many slaves are there?

According to conservative estimates, there are twenty-seven million slaves. This number is more than all the slaves shipped from Africa during the transatlantic slave trade.

What kind of work do slaves do?

Simple, non-technological and traditional labor. Most slaves work in agriculture, but many also work in mining, quarrying, prostitution and the manufacture of everything from charcoal and cloth to chocolate.

What factors allow slavery to persist?

The world’s population explosion, which has produced a reservoir of poor and vulnerable people. The modernization of agriculture, which results in huge numbers of dispossessed farmers. Greed, corruption and violence created by economic change in much of the developing world, and a breakdown of the social norms that protected potential slaves. Widespread ignorance about slavery.

The kind of slavery most of us learned about in school was abolished in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many are unaware of the ways in which new forms of slavery have evolved. Powerful nations often fear that taking a strong stand against slavery will jeopardize economic or military interests deemed to be more compelling national interests.

Food for thought or discussion

When he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said: “The sovereignty of states must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights.” Do you agree? How high a priority should the United States make the protection of human rights in foreign countries? Imagine that one thousand Jews were enslaved in a foreign country. What would you do to help them? What would you expect America or Israel to do?

5.

Other ideas for additions to your Seder:

  • Ask your guests to prepare for a Seder discussion about modern slavery, or to prepare a reading of their own to share during the Seder (right after the Four Questions is a good time to do this.)Encourage creativity-like writing it in the voice of Moses, or a modern day slave, or suggesting that younger children express their thoughts artistically.
  • In addition to the place settings for your guests, set a place for those enslaved today, as a remembrance and a way to “invite all who are hungry to come and eat.”
A Special Passover Sermon

We Jews walk the earth as redeemed slaves.

This season as we join with our families and the families of Jews around the globe to celebrate our redemption from Egypt, we should take special note that, sadly, slavery is not history, that indeed there are people in bondage, real bondage, on every continent.

Why should we take note of this? The answer lies in what Passover means to our lives, and why it is so central to every Jew.

The story of Exodus is our master story. Its lessons have become our eternal guide and our teachings make constant reference to it:

First, God repeatedly instructs us on how to treat others by referring to our days in bondage: “You shall not wrong nor oppress the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:19); “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and Adonai Your God redeemed you” (Deuteronomy 15:12); “you shall not treat the stranger or the orphan unjustly, nor take the widow’s clothing to pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and Adonai your God redeemed you there: therefore I command you to do this thing.” (Deuteronomy 24: 17-18) “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it after you, it shall be for the stranger, the orphan and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt: therefore I command you to do this thing.” (Deuteronomy 24: 21-22).

Second, we are to be ever mindful that our present state includes our past enslavement. Indeed, we call Passover z’man cheruteynu, the time of our freedom. Similarly, when we recite the words of the Kiddish, we say zecher litziat Mitzrayim, remembrance of our exodus from Egypt. Why do we recall our enslavement, not just on Passover, but on every holiday and every Shabbat? To remind us that before we can sit in peace and eat our festive meal, we must recall our own bondage, and, therefore think of those people who are still in the worst of circumstances.

And, finally, because we were slaves, we are instructed that whenever Jews become captives again-as they were during the Middle Ages, when Jews were captured by raiders, and pirates and held for ransom-that, in the simple words of Maimonides, “You must redeem them.” The value of Pidyon Shevuyim, redeeming of the captives, is the most important mitzvah of them all, Maimonides argued, because slavery is worse than a natural death, worse than death by the sword, and worse than starvation, since the slave could suffer any of these and more. And that is why Jewish communities who had saved up money to build a new synagogue were instructed to use that money instead to redeem captives first.

These values, intrinsic to our commandments to remember our own slavery and to redeem slaves should, whenever possible, extend beyond ourselves and guide our behavior to the larger world. Even though our direct experience with slavery is a long ago memory, we must continue to be vigilant about fighting slavery wherever it exists in the world today.

And yes, as we sit here today in celebration of our freedom from slavery, there are at least 27 million people enslaved in the world-today! This does not include people with hard jobs or low wages, or nasty bosses, but actual slaves, people who are forced-under the threat of violence-to work for little or no pay.

Twenty seven Million.

There are the rug-weaving slaves of little Indian boys and girls shackled to their looms from dawn to dusk, from toddlers to adolescents, weaving the rugs that we walk on.

There are the debt-bonded slaves of Pakistan, who were born into bondage through an inherited debt and who will surely pass that status onto their children.

There are the Bangladeshi camel jockey kids in the Persian Gulf States, the chocolate slaves of the Ivory Coast, the Trokosi religious slaves of Ghana, the trafficked boys and girls and women all over the world. According to the latest CIA reports, even in the United States-the land of the free-there are 50,000 people trafficked to the shores each year.

While all of these cases deserve our attention and our support, we must pay special attention to one of the worst cases: the slaves of Sudan. At one time, this was among the most ignored cases, but thanks to the work of the American Anti-Slavery Group and others like them, we have come to know their story. And their story, in many ways, is a very Jewish story.

In Sudan, the trade of black slaves was extinguished by the British but has been rekindled by a “holy war.” As part of a jihad waged by an Arab Muslim Taliban-like regime in the North, Southern Sudanese-mostly Black Christians and believers in tribal faiths-are captured, bought and sold, and branded and bred. The ruling regime’s goal is to impose Koranic Law throughout all of Sudan and to destroy any opposition.

The South Sudanese are resisting, but at a very high cost. Two million people have been killed, more than in Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda, Burundi, Haiti and Somalia combined. These are all countries where American troops and treasure were sent to rescue people from horror and death. Millions more have been displaced from their homes and over a hundred thousand people have been forcibly starved to death. Estimates from village chiefs and local officials say there may be as many as 200,000 Christians and animists from Southern Sudan who have been captured and remain enslaved in the North. Despite the widespread knowledge of these atrocities, no one in power intervened for a long time. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who personally knows of the horrors of genocide, once explained that the United States does not classify this as “genocide” (thought the U.S. Holocaust Museum does) because if it did, America would be required by the treaties it signed to act. But in 2004, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell felt differently and declared it a “genocide” forcing the U.S. to become involved.

In a way, the South Sudanese are today’s Jews: they are targeted for annihilation, the world is well aware of their dire conditions, and yet, very few will intervene to save them. That is surely a familiar story to our community.

In Sudan today, Arab militias armed by the Khartoum government storm African villages, shoot the men and capture the women and children. The stories of the raids remind us of our own pogroms, and are reminiscent both of the Cossacks and the Shoah. The testimonies of the slaves-brave men like Francis Bok, an escaped slave now living in Boston and working for the American Anti-Slavery Group-read like stories from Elie Weisel.

In the face of the indifference of our government, what can we do? Raise awareness, advocate for a change in government policy, and redeem slaves.

During the 2001 Pesach, Dr. Charles Jacobs, President of the American Anti-Slavery Group, journeyed to Southern Sudan. He traveled along a tributary of the Nile, not all that far from where our own people slaved for the Pharaohs. In a single week, he, together with a former Congressman and founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, witnessed the redemption of 2,953 slaves, all, with the exception of one man, were women and children. It was a secret trip, illegal from the point of view of Khartoum, arranged by a Swiss rights group, Christian Solidarity International. The party was protected by the Christian army of the South. The Jews in the group lit Shabbat candles in the camp on Friday night. Since it was close to Pesach and they were close to Egypt and they were slaves, they also ate matza.

Normally, the slave raiders don’t take men as slaves. Slavery in this part of the world is about concubinage, not cotton. The idea is to spread the civilization of the masters through the wombs of the captives. Little boys are goatherds, like Francis Bok. Little girls, before puberty, are domestics. When the boys reach puberty, they are typically killed. Their throats are cut, the idea is to cut off the seed of those you would destroy. Pharaoh did the same to us. “If it is a son,” he told the midwives, “you are to kill him.”

The children who were liberated slowly warmed to their redeemers, and the women too, once they realized that they were not another set of slave traders. But the one man who was redeemed on that trip was deeply depressed. He was ashamed to have survived. He saw other men and older boys resist, refuse to do humiliating things, and be killed for it. He thought himself a coward. He was morose. Dr. Jacobs tried to tell him that God saved him so he could tell his story, but he doesn’t know if it helped.

Slave redemption is controversial. Everyone knows that buying freedom of some slaves does not solve the problem. But it has saved the lives of over 60,000 people. Frederick Douglass could not have lived in security were his freedom not purchased by the abolitionists of his day. One-by-one salvation is an honored practice in the human rights community, and the Jewish world.

Buying slaves’ freedom does not get to the root cause of slavery in Sudan. So what? Should the slaves wait until there is peace? Isn’t that what the world told the Jews during the Shoah? We won’t bomb the trains or the camps and rescue Jews. Wait for the war to end. We should not allow that mistake to be repeated.

Some say that redeeming slaves gives incentives for more raids. There is a certain logic to this view, but in fact it is not true. The Dinka village chiefs, who implore the world to come and redeem their people, would not let the redeemers land their planes if buy-backs would mean more raids. They, the chiefs, are the first to be killed in each raid. The raiders from the North do not do this for money. They believe that they are engaged in a holy war and that their God wants them to conquer the land of the infidels. Slavery is their terror-weapon of choice.

For the past ten years, the American Anti-Slavery Group has not actively sought the support of the organized Jewish community. The story of today’s black slaves needed to be heard unencumbered by other possible agendas. And from the start, Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, the Government of Sudan, and Muslim and Arab-American organizations attacked the campaign to expose the enslavement of blacks by Islamic fundamentalists as a CIA/Imperialist/Zionist conspiracy.

But now, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, and President Bush all have condemned slavery in Sudan. And now, leaders of Southern Sudan tell the anti-slavery movement to “ask the Jews to help our people.”

It is time for our community, as Jews, to come to the front line against slavery in Sudan, and around the globe. What could be more natural than Jewish abolitionists. Who knows the “Pharos” better than we?

And so, as we celebrate Pesach this year, we must once again see ourselves as slaves in Egypt-not to degrade ourselves, but zecher litziat Mitzrayim,a remembrance of our own experience and our command to free others. This year, let each of us pledge to do something to help free today’s slaves. Join the American Anti-Slavery Passover Project, be a part of its abolitionist army, and learn how to help bring an end to an ancient scourge thought long ago defeated.

And when you do, then you will be able to say, in the tradition of Jewish Law that is echoed in the words of the great black abolitionists Harriet Tubman: “I have heard their cries and I have seen their tears, and I would do anything in my power to set them free.” Let us make this Passover not only z’man cheyruteinu, the season of our freedom, but also z’man cheyrutey-hem, a time of the freedom for all who are enslaved today.

Chag Sameach.

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