The Jubilee Haggadah
[/icon-box]I remember the last Seder with my grandfather Yaakov, before he passed away. I remember it vaguely, just as I remember every other seder: We gathered to read the haggadah, and remind ourselves that “We were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt — now we are free” and that “Indeed in every generation there are those who seek to destroy us.” We sang those words with joy and cheer, because “now we are free, we are free.”
I remember it vaguely, because it was never significant for me. We read — always the same haggadah — as fast as we could, so we could start eating. Maybe it’s an Israeli secular thing. Now that we are free, we just have to supply ourselves with food.
It was 30 years later before I had a different seder experience, which happened last year when I was hosted by a family in Cape Town. We read texts they had chosen carefully about freedom, liberty and slavery. Gandhi and Mandela, as other writers of those texts, added different perspectives to our story. And just the presence of those texts in the Seder made it clear that not only we were slaves. That many others were, and some still are, unfree. That it’s not all about us and when it was about us, we didn’t just repeat our story mindlessly, as it is written in the Haggadah.
This year in particular we must look deeper into our tradition as we approach 50 years of occupation. The traditional haggadah and the entirity Jewish tradition are filled with messages of seeking justice, taking responsibility, caring not only for ourselves but for the needy around us.
Let’s not just look at our story in the past, when we were slaves — but also change the we to they, change the past tense to present and future, change slaves to free people. That is exactly what we find inside the Jubilee Haggadah, an artwork of thirty authors, artists and thinkers from throughout the Jewish world — Amos Oz, Leon Wieseltier, Rabbi Michael Melchior, Sarah Silverman, Michael Waltzer and many more — alongside original illustrations and a beautiful design. The result is a rich document that elicits reflection and conversation.
Lets, for example, look at what happened after the Exodus, in the words of Prof. Jeffrey David Sachs:
Jews know well that [the Passover story] is followed by another story, of conquest and exile. In the Passover story, the Jews escape slavery in Egypt and return to the Promised Land. Yet the Jewish people later fall into iniquity — turning to the false gods of greed, power, and land hunger — and succumb to Babylonian exile. As the Prophets tell us, Judea falls to sin from within, not to power from without.
And Eva Illouz, former President of Israel’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design:
Let’s look at our story at present, having achieved freedom, and ask – why do we commemorate it at all?
Why not simply celebrate freedom? This is because freedom can bring with it the forgetfulness of bondage. Freedom can make one smug. Freedom is so fundamental that once free, we can easily forget what it is to be unfree.
S. Daniel Abraham, American philanthropist and founder of the Center for Middle East Peace asks us to consider what it is that has stood firm for our ancestors and for us? Not oppression of the weak, not physical force, not exploitation of the stranger:
This has stood firm for our ancestors and for us, in every single generation. Just as in every single generation one must see oneself as if one has come out of Egypt, that which has accompanied us throughout the generations commands us to see all human beings as rightfully entitled to freedom.
In a contribution of world-renowned Israeli singer Achinoam Nini — known best as “Noa” — let’s interpret what the Haggadah says about the evil son, whose sense of identity does not include others:
This is considered evil in the Haggadah. The message of the evil son is God’s way of telling us there is nothing more sacred than human life, and the human solidarity that is needed in order to preserve and protect it.
The process of caring is work, as the evil son states “what is this work for you”? It is always much easier to turn your back on the other and care only for yourself. Solidarity, community, sharing and caring: that is hard work.
And one of Israel’s leading authors, Amos Oz, asks us to look over the past 50 years in this Jubilee year:
We were not born to be a people of masters. “To be a free people” — this wish must awaken an echo in our hearts so long as we have not lost our humanity. We are condemned now to rule people who do not want to be ruled by us. Condemned, not merry and euphoric. The shorter the occupation lasts, the better for us, because an occupation is inevitably a corrupting occupation, and even a liberal and human occupation is an occupation.
I have fears about the kind of seeds we will sow in the near future in the hearts of the occupied. Even more, I have fears about the seeds that will be implanted in the hearts of the occupiers.
How can we make this seder be different from all other seders?
Until the Seder in Cape Town, I experienced 30 years of parroting words without meaning each Seder night of the story of our past — how we were slaves. In a week, my 31st seder would be again with my family in Israel. In this Jubilee year, I really want to enrich the ritual of our seder with a few of those diverse and nuanced texts, taken from the Jubilee Haggadah.
The Jubilee Haggadah links the feast of freedom with the need to free both Palestinians and Israelis from 50 years of occupation. The traditional haggadah and the entire Jewish tradition are filled with messages of seeking justice, taking responsibility, caring not only for ourselves but for the needy around us. This haggadah is not rebelling against, but rather building upon this tradition. As we also read into its words, the more we expand upon the Passover story, the more we are to be praised.
Download a free version or buy copies for your seder at http://nif.org/sisohaggadah.
What about your children?