The Bread of Our Affliction-Passover Day 1

What’s the point in the Seder when you realize “this is it”? For some it is from the moment they step through the door and see the Seder plate and the table set. For others it is hearing the Four Questions from the youngest member of their family. For me it has been the beginning of the telling of the Passover story.

For many, the Maggid section is the most boring-something to race through in anticipation of the Seder meal. I would argue, however, that the first paragraph sets the tone for why we observe a Seder in the first place. The paragraph reads (in English), “This is the bread of our affliction-let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need partake in our Passover.” This in my opinion is the reason why we gather together at the Seder. Some of us think of Jewish holidays in the sense of “They try to kill us-we won-let’s eat!” However, our holidays go beyond that-their focus is to teach us that now that we are free, what are we going to do to uphold that freedom? Now that we are no longer slaves, what will we do to ensure that there will not be slavery in the world?

According to an article in Reuters, there are 29,6 million slaves around the world, more than ever before, roughly equivalent to the population of Australia and Denmark combined. Modern-day slavery is a fast-growing industry worth $32 billion a year, equal to the profit of McDonalds and Walmart combined. There are currently 880,000 people engaged in forced labor across the European Union. 58% are women, the majority victims of sexual exploitation – the most lucrative form of slavery. India – with a population of over 1.2 billion – has more slaves than any other country in the world: 14.7 million.

What does this have to do with us? Unfortunately, the slavery situation in the United States is not much better. A January article from The Huffington Post stated that human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing crime, occupying 90% of the work of the Department of Defense. There are estimated hundreds of thousands enslaved in the United States. One of those was Ima Matul who received a job offer in the states from Indonesia. After arriving in the states, her passport was confiscated and she had to work seven days a week without pay. If she tried had tried to report it, she would have been thrown in jail as an illegal for not having her passport. President Obama acknowledged this 2 and a half years ago when he stated, “but for all the progress that we’ve made, the bitter truth is that trafficking also goes on right here, in the United States.  It’s the migrant worker unable to pay off the debt to his trafficker.  The man, lured here with the promise of a job, his documents then taken, and forced to work endless hours in a kitchen.  The teenage girl, beaten, forced to walk the streets.  This should not be happening in the United States of America.”  

If we think this is not a Jewish issue, let us remember the hundreds of Mexican workers who were bussed up from the border to the Agroprocesors glatt kosher plant in Postville, Iowa. They were given false documentation-assigned to two 8-hour shifts per day with false social security numbers never to receive their wages. In my opinion they were exploited as cheap labor, and since they have been deported with criminal records. Human trafficking and exploitation of “the other” is a form of slavery. Though I am one to generally defend fellow Jews, I marched in Postville in solidarity with the workers, who I believe were economically abused by Agroprocessors.

The Haggadah teaches “B’kol dor vador hayav adam lirot et atzmo k’ilu hu yatza mimitzrayim,”-in each and every generation, a person is required to see himself as if he came out of Egypt, also translated as “the narrow place”. Maimonides took a more active role in his Haggadah, saying “hayav adam l’harot et atzmo,” that a person must show himself as if he came out of Egypt-hence those who dress up as Israelites crossing the desert. I propose a third definition: that in each generation we need to remember our exodus from Egypt and act to ensure that others can have their own exodus from Egypt-their personal place of narrows. Micah Kaplan of the Hartman Institute teaches that the lesson of redemption from slavery was to turn us into liberators. For Kaplan, it is not enough to celebrate at one’s Seder table the miraculous nature of the exodus-rather one must actively work to redeem others who are enslaved.

How can we work together to make a difference? From a global perspective, one can contribute to American Jewish World Service, an organization which is focused upon global justice, including equal rights for men and women, an end to human trafficking of all types and the right for everyone to receive an education. From a local perspective, you can help out at the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead, where there are so many in need of assistance, most of them children. Regardless of your political beliefs on immigration, if we do not work to help these children they could fall into the hands of human traffickers, and that is something that I’m sure we can all agree that we do not want.

As we celebrate the holiday of liberation with another Seder tonight, let us think of all who are enslaved and in need of our help. May this Passover be a bridge for us to move from the liberation of our people to the liberation of others. Hag Sameach.

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