Rabbi Arthur Waskow : Rebirthing the Freedom Seder

Freedom Seder graphic by Avi Katz.

Since the most profound issue facing the world today is the danger of climate catastrophe — ‘global scorching’ — and other forms of earth-wide environmental disaster, the Fortieth Anniversary Freedom Seders will especially address that challenge through the presence in the Passover story of the Ten Plagues.

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow / The Rag Blog / February 12, 2009

Forty years ago, the 2000-year-old form of the Passover Seder and Haggadah were turned into a seed for change, liberating new vision and creativity. The original Freedom Seder was held in Washington DC in 1969 on the first anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King. Every Haggadah before it had told the story of the liberation of the ancient Israelites from slavery under Pharaoh; the Freedom Seder intertwined that Jewish story with the struggles for freedom of Black America and other cultures, races, and religions. It won national attention and emulation, and in the decades since has sparked for many people the creation of many Seders and Haggadot devoted to various aspects of liberation.

Forty years – like the forty days of rain before the Flood, the forty days and nights that Moses and then Jesus fasted before their revelations, the forty years of travail in the wilderness, the forty weeks of human pregnancy — are the time for a pregnant pause toward a new birthing. What now most needs a birthing?

Since the most profound issue facing the world today is the danger of climate catastrophe — “global scorching” — and other forms of earth-wide environmental disaster, the Fortieth Anniversary Freedom Seders will especially address that challenge through the presence in the Passover story of the Ten Plagues.

Each of the plagues is an ecological disaster brought on by Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness, stubbornness, and addiction to his own power. Swarms of frogs and locusts, unprecedented hailstorms, rivers become undrinkable, three days of sandstorm darkness so thick it could be touched — these disasters for the earth were intertwined with economic disasters for the people: workers impoverished into slaves, foreigners turned into pariahs. What are the Ten Plagues being brought upon us by the institutional “pharaohs” of today? Who and what are thoee pharaohs?

The New Freedom Seder for the Earth will also address Ten Healings for the earth and human justice that we must bring about through our own action.

I wrote the original Freedom Seder, which was published by Ramparts magazine. The actual Seder was broadcast live on WBAI radio, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation carried an hour-long reprise on national television. Since I am now director of The Shalom Center, The Shalom Center has taken responsibility for creating the New Freedom Seder for the Earth.

A flagship 40th Anniversary Seder will be held in Washington, DC, at 5 pm on March 29, 2009, at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of participants representing many faiths and races are expected to attend the event, which will draw attention to global threats to the environment. The Seder will also focus on the central Passover themes of freedom and the ten Biblical plagues, most of which were ecological calamities.

Shiloh Baptist Church is one of the earliest and sturdiest of African-American churches in the nation’s capital. It was founded by slaves in 1852, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. When the Union Army offered safe passage to all blacks from Fredericksburg, north to Washington, many Shiloh members, now freed slaves, came meeting in a small shanty where they learned to read and write. They continued to worship together, growing to 750 members by 1861. In 1863, Shiloh was recognized as a true church and ordained its first pastor. In the 145 years since then, there have been only five other pastors. Sr. Pastor Dr. Wallace Charles Smith now leads the congregation.

March 29 is ten days before Passover, two weeks before Easter, and less than a week before the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death. The Freedom Seder in Washington will infuse each of these events with new energy and depth. It will draw national attention to the many local Fortieth Anniversary Interfaith Freedom Seders that will be held simultaneously in communities around the U.S., uniting people of all faiths, cultures, and races in a common dedication to social and economic justice, peace, and the healing of our wounded earth.

The Fortieth Anniversary Freedom Seders will focus on how to move past the top-down pharaonic powers that today are blocking the path toward a promised land of justice and sustainable community, nourished by sustainable sources of energy. We intend for the Seders to be not a one-time-only event but part of a process of ongoing organizing to prevent climate disaster and work for a just and sustainable economy.

To attend the Seder in Washington, please register here.

To sponsor or take part in your Freedom Seder for the Earth in your own community, please write Awaskow@shalomctr.org and register your Seder here.

The Rag Blog

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1 Response to Rabbi Arthur Waskow : Rebirthing the Freedom Seder

  1. Thanks for this. I’m just finishing a book on Ramparts magazine for The New Press and would welcome whatever comments or recollections you might have about your experience there as a contributing editor. My address is peter.richardson@sbcglobal.net. Gratefully, Peter.

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