- Maxima Acuna, Peruvian farmer
Seders are fun. Family and friends gather, dine, sing, and celebrate together. Now that my kids are grown and out of the house, it's extra special to have them with us to engage in the pageantry.
Joy is among Judaism's best ideas, says Rabbi Art Green, so why not make it fun? The Seder offers lots of opportunities to make it your own. For help click here
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"Fun" at the Seder is not emphasized in the Talmud, but those rabbis never experienced singing
Chad Gadya at our Seder table.
The Exodus, our master story, lives at the heart of the Torah narrative. It is referenced in traditional daily prayers. It's referenced again in the first of the Ten Commandments. And each year, during Passover, we gather at Seder to tell and retell our master story. Vividly - so that we ourselves feel as if we were liberated from slavery.
But, really, the traditional Haggadah is thin on retelling. Moses doesn't even appear! Instead, along with bits and pieces of the story, we get mnemonic hints - food such as maror to signify the hard times, and tangents from the Mishna period - Hillel and his "sandwich," Rabban Gamliel, and the five rabbis who stay up all night talking.
Arnold Eisen believes this non-linear approach suggests that the Seder is less about what happened then, and more about the here and now - "to heed the Torah's call to action in the present - action that transforms, and redeems, the future."
This is why a wide variety of Passover Haggadot and supplements focus on human trafficking, social justice, and other timely issues. This is why the Passover story became so important to African Americans oppressed by slavery, Jim Crow, and its contemporary vestiges, and why their stories and songs made their way into our Passover Seders. We take to heart a core Passover message - do not oppress the stranger for you were once strangers in Egypt. The Seder becomes a rallying cry to "heed the Torah's call to action."
I heard that call this week at the Goldman Environmental Awards. These awards recognize efforts to protect the planet. I did not expect these stories to resemble our master story from ancient Egypt:
, a subsistence farmer in Peru; she and her family face eviction from a company developing mines that would destroy not only her farm, but lakes and wetlands that serve as a source of life for many indigenous farmers in the area.
a Baltimore teen who fought to remove toxic refineries, contributing to the nation's highest emissions-related mortality rates, a half-mile from her high school.
who went undercover to document illegal deforestation in Cambodia.
Their stories echoed the plight of the Hebrew slaves in the face of dehumanizing power. And, like Moses and Aaron - audacity to speak truth to that power.
, last year's awardee, from Honduras was recognized for leading her Lenca tribe in a grassroots movement against the development of a mega-dam that would displace indigenous communities and wreak havoc on the environment.
Embodying courage and humility, Berta said: "We come from the earth, the water, and the corn." The Lenca people act as "ancestral guardians of the rivers..."
The awards ceremony felt like a Seder. The retelling of stories of oppression, of resilience, of courage and of hope. Like our Seder, it reminded us that Pharaohs and their victims are still among us.
Moses kicks off the Exodus story with an act of empathy, interrupting brutal violence against a Hebrew slave.
Who was that slave? And how many others slaves had been beaten and killed by their slave masters? Was Moses the first person with power to show empathy for the slave? Was that empathy what God was waiting for?
One year ago, Berta said: "giving our lives for the protection of the rivers is giving our lives for the well-being of humanity and of this planet."
I did not appreciate how tragically prescient those words would be: six weeks ago, Berta was assassinated.
As Maxima sang her song, I closed my eyes and saw Berta. Protecting her home and the lakes, Maxima confronts the enormous power of companies, police, and lawyers. "They want to take my life." Last year, I ignored Berta's warning. Not again - this is the Seder's call to action.
Our Seder will be fun. We'll sing at the top of our lungs and drink four cups of wine with family and