On the second night of Passover, we held a seder and invited friends to come celebrate and commemorate with us. Each person was to bring something to share – a song, a reading, a thought – the topic: what is slavery. Jewish people have been sitting around the seder table since the beginning of time (by their chronicle anyway) and always it’s the same order of things. Seder means order, it’s about remembering our humble origins in an orderly fashion. First you dip the green parsley (spring, renewal) in the salt water (the tears of our ancestors who were slaves) and then you build on that theme until you get to the end of the night and say NEVER AGAIN in remembering the Holocaust and NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM to remember that there is a place for Jews to live freely (or so they say).
In a transracial family there is a great opportunity to bridge our cultural heritage by discussing slavery. There are many people who dismiss discussions of slavery today by saying, “Everyone was a slave once.” That’s true, so then why don’t we talk about it? If Jews can sit around the table once a year and remember what it was like to be a slave, to eat the bitter herbs and taste the salty water of the tears of their ancestors, yet also find compassion for those who enslaved them, then why shouldn’t others do the same?
There’s a running joke with Jews that our holidays are always so grave and heavy unlike those who celebrate with pastel colored eggs and bunnies. Again true, but remembering history, recalling when things were not so good so that you can savor the sweetness of today, is not such a bad idea. And having a holiday that is also instructional for children is a great way of recalling our shared past.
In our discussion of what is slavery we talked about modern slavery – how there are more people enslaved today than at any other time in human history. That’s right. And the most egregious slavery happens here in the United States with farm laborers. And not just with immigrants, U.S. citizens are recruited from homeless shelters with promises of money, steady work, and even drugs and alcohol and then find themselves chained to a trailer and working 12 to 14 hours in the fields for a penny a pound – caught in a trick bag of indebtedness to the farm owner. Yes, seven cases have been prosecuted in Florida in the past several years. It’s why I gave my apology for Whole Foods, one of the few groceries to sign on to fair trade. You pay for that tomato because whoever picked it got paid a fair wage to bring it from farm to table.
Our children sat around the table while we sang Dayenu (read: it would have been enough!) and Go Down Moses, a tale of the Jews fleeing Egypt that was turned into an African American spiritual that was then co-opted by the Jews to sing at the seder during Passover.
We also sang Bob Marley’s War:
Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
And abandoned –
Everywhere is war –
Me say war.
We drink four cups of wine during the seder and when we fill the second cup we spill out ten drops for the ten plagues that God sent to the Egyptians to convince Pharaoh to let his people go. We spill the wine from our full cup so that we remember that in our liberation others suffered – so our glass may never be full.
Why is it important to talk about Pharaoh – a hater back in his day? Because the other day a man who publicly declared his hatred for Jews gunned down three innocent people.Why is important to remember our history? Just days ago in the Ukraine, Jews were handed flyers ordering them to register as Jews or have their citizenship revoked. Why is it important to celebrate our differences AND our similarities – there is a roasted egg on the seder plate to remind us the earth is round, a mother’s belly is round with an infant, we are all connected, life is circular, we were once a slave, we were once a king, you cannot fill your cup when another’s runs dry.
What is Slavery?
Me say war.