Labor Seder

Jewish News1
April 4, 2014, reportage by Rebecca Foster

Original article

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During the holiday of Passover, Jews around the world recall the story of the Jewish people's escape from slavery in Egypt. And here at Adas Israel synagogue in Washington DC, advocacy group "Jews United for Justice" are holding an annual event they call Labor Seder, a special Passover Seder designed to raise awareness of injustices that are still in the world today.

 

This is undoubtedly the most diverse Passover Seder you will find in the US capital. But attendees have come here because of shared aspirations such as raising the minimum wage and ensuring quality jobs for everyone.

 

Isaiah Beamon, Walmart Associate:

 

"I have coworkers who are homeless and living in their cars because they can't afford to pay rent living on their minimum wage paycheck. My coworkers and I have helped fellow associates get extra food when they can't afford groceries at the end of the week. People like me and my coworkers who work hard every day to serve our customers should not have to be forced to rely on charity and public assistance."

 

The world's largest retailer is one of the key targets for campaigners and Walmart employees here are not afraid to speak out.

 

Walmart is the largest private employer in the United States. It is currently considering supporting an increase in the federal minimum wage even though the powerful National Retail Federation of which Walmart is a member, has dubbed the idea a "job killer".

 

For some attending this event, it's their first Passover Seder. Traditions have been adapted to reflect the theme of the evening, with the four questions and the 10 plagues all relating to issues of poverty and income inequality.

 

Those attending are also asked to write a letter to their local political leaders, encouraging them to raise the minimum wage. Participants drew a link with the ancient messages of Passover.

 

Joe Brophy, Attendee:

 

"It's a really great event with a great message. It sort of takes a historic ritual event that is very powerful to us as Jews and gives it a very inspiring contemporary message."

 

Jane Yamaykin, Attendee:

 

"My family started on welfare in this country, I'm so grateful for that too and I want other people to have the benefits of those safety nets in this country as well."

 

Mitch Crispell, Attendee:

 

"We're always saying we have to act as if we're still enslaved because we are saying we're allies to other groups that are not yet free and so I think Passover really is the best time to be fighting for justice."

 

Here at Jews United for Justice headquarters, the foundation’s passion for change is clear. Rabbi Elizabeth Richman is their Program Director, and Rabbi in Residence.

 

Rabbi Elizabeth Richman, JUFJ:  

 

"Our goal is really to work with our neighbors in other religious communities, other ethnic communities to make the entire region more healthy, more safe, more fair and more just for everybody living here."

 

She says the story of Passover relates to everyone.

 

Rabbi Elizabeth Richman, JUFJ: 

 

"It's our experience that the Exodus story is so beloved and it's made its way into really secular culture, in literature, in art and music. Everybody relates to that idea of being liberated in some way that it doesn't take very much for people to relate."

 

Labor Seder is in its thirteenth year. Many attendees come back each time around and they're committed to change, using the morals of Passover as a model to affect their local community.

 

Rebecca Foster, JN1, Washington