Archive for : Passover

A Mexico City Night Different From All Others

The Shabbat candles flickered, and chicken soup umami wafted from the kitchen.

After a week of preparation, I peered down the makeshift dining table at my roommate Diana and my twelve guests. None were local to Mexico City. We were all transients, strangers in a strange land. We were a mix of Jews, Christians, Catholics, and atheists. A mix of Americans, Mexicans, and an Argentinean. A mix of East and West Coasters, Midwesterners, and Southerners. A mix of black, brown, and white.

All twenty- and thirty-somethings, our colors and backgrounds blended like the ingredients in the charoset, each one highlighting the other, making for a sweet combination more than the sum of its parts.

Diana and I—the Jewish contingent—introduced ourselves, explaining that seder is a storytelling process followed by a festive dinner. That we would lead the way but we hoped everyone would participate. That we wanted people to question, and if we couldn’t answer, Google surely could.

We began with a round robin sharing our placecards. In addition to our names, each held factoids about a Jewish community around the world.

“I’m Macarena,” my Argentinian friend announced when her turn arrived.

“Hiiiiiiiii Macarena,” we all responded in chorus.

“What do Hungarian Jews place on the Seder table to represent the precious gifts given to the Israelites as they departed Egypt?”

We all looked around dumbfounded, until, in Spanish, she gave us a clue. “Sería un buen regalo para mujeres. Seguro que todas las mujeres aquí tiene… (It would be a good gift for women. All the women here definitely have some…),” she added, winking my direction.

“Chocolate!” we shouted. “Wine!”

“Noooo…. Joyas!” She shared gleefully. Jewelry.

After we made the rounds, Diana and I shared a bit of the history of the Jewish community in Mexico. We explained that we hoped tonight would be an opportunity to share diverse stories of struggle and liberation. That we would learn together from the story of Exodus, and explore its relevance today. “We are not merely telling a story here. We are being called to a radical act of empathy,” I read from Jonathan Safran Foer’s New American Haggadah.

We embarked, popcorn-style, around the table, trading off reading mostly from a racial justice Haggadah that quoted Fannie Lou Hamer, Carl Sagan, Harriet Tubman, and Bryan Stevenson, along with the Torah. Diana’s grandparents looked down at us from their crystal frame on our TV console, and my grandparents’ loaned Maxwell house Haggadahs peered up from the table, stained and bent from decades of use.

When we arrived at the first handwashing, we read from a feminist Haggadah about the role of women, and water, in the Exodus story. We invited our guests to wash the hands of the person to their right, but not without first asking for consent. They eagerly complied, each one looking into his or her neighbor’s eyes—some for the first time—speaking in hushed tones, then gently pouring water over their neighbors’ hands.

We moved from the handwashing (urhatz), to eating a green vegetable dipped in saltwater (karpas), to breaking the middle matzah (yahatz).

Why does the Haggadah urge us to feed the hungry at this point in the seder, when it’s already more or less too late, we asked ourselves, with the help of Safran Foer. “Could it be teaching us that this night, in one crucial way, is just like all other nights? On all other nights we eat to satisfaction without a thought for the hungry stranger. Tonight, we speak of hunger, but do nothing to alleviate it.”

We reflected silently, asking ourselves why that is so, and what we should do differently.

Then there were bowls of matzah ball soup with cilantro and jalapeño—a nod to our host-country. A cucumber, tomato, avocado and serrano chile salad. Fish with mole-inspired rub. My mom’s sweet and sour brisket. Flourless chocolate cake. Lemon bars. Matzah toffee rocky road bites.

And then, the great hunt for the afikoman commenced, Vanessa emerging triumphant from beneath the table. We followed a rich meal with those final dry bites, and we read:

“[The afikoman] embodies the faith that there is always a way, concealed though it might be, to make the transition from the suffering that we know, to the future that we dream…. We sit together with our great diversities of worldviews, for we are celebrants of freedom and will brook no tyranny of thought. But we all eat the afikoman together, gesturing toward a sense of the world that sustains us in our hope.”

We stood up and opened the door for Elijah, arms slung around each other. Diana and I began to sing Eliyahu hanavi, surprised when the voices of our guests, high and low, joined in the Hebrew on the second round.

As our celebration of our freedom came to a close, I silently prayed that those voices would continue to echo through our minds, sustaining us in our many fights for freedom, at least until next year.


Ryan Cohen is a Fulbright-García Robles conducting research about how to advance social mobility in Mexico City. She previously worked for the Obama White House, ACLU of Michigan, Department of Justice, and Mayor of Los Angeles. Her writing has been featured in the Huffington PostReformaUniversity of Pennsylvania Journal of Law & Social Change, and Kennedy School Review, and can be found on her website ryanashleycohen.com.

Haggadahs blend traditional, modern topics

This article originally appeared in Greater Phoenix and Northern Arizona’s Jewish News on March 28, 2018.

By Selah Maya Zighelboim

Haggadah means “telling,” and different versions of the Passover Seder script, translated and retold in countless languages countless times, can certainly be telling about the state of the world.

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Haggadahs Blend Traditional, Modern Topics

This article originally appeared March 28, 2018 in The Jewish Exponent.

By Selah Maya Zighelboim

Haggadah means “telling,” and different versions of the Passover seder script, translated and retold in countless languages countless times, can certainly be telling about the state of the world.

And this year’s crop of new haggadahs and supplements are certainly no different. Though the reading of the haggadah is a custom thousands of years old, these are all relatively young, as they place this ancient story in a contemporary context.

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Jewish organizations encourage retelling the Passover story with trivia cards

This article originally appeared on Religion News Service on March 26, 2018.

By RNS Staff

(RNS) — Quick: “Why do Jews from Gibraltar sprinkle brick dust into their Passover haroset dish?”

Or, “Why do Middle Eastern Jewish families whip themselves with scallions at the seder table?”

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Liberation And #MeToo Collide At The Seder

This article originally appeared in The New York Jewish Week on March 21, 2018.

By Hannah Dreyfus

Eric Thurm, a 25-year-old Brooklynite and writer, has been hosting seders for his contemporaries since his college days.

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5 Haggadahs and other Passover supplements to modernize your seder this year

This article originally appeared in the JTA on March 21, 2018.

By Gabe Friedman

(JTA) — Although Jews have celebrated Passover by reading from the Haggadah in one form or another for 2,000 years, Jewish organizations and publishers strive each year to connect the holiday to modern times with fresh Haggadahs as well as supplements.

If you’re looking to give your seder a distinct 2018 flavor, consider these options — they bring up topics ranging from Donald Trump to Ethiopian chickpea matzah.

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Be’chol Lashon and Repair the World Create New Passover Seder Supplements to Connect Biblical Exodus Story to Modern Struggles for Freedom

New York, NY — To spark conversations connecting the ancient Passover Exodus story to modern struggles for freedom, Be’chol Lashon and Repair the Word are teaming up to offer specially designed seder supplements this Passover (werepair.org/passover). The materials, part of the Passover campaign, #MemoryToAction, encourage seder participants to engage in meaningful, sometimes difficult conversations about how we talk about individual and systemic struggles for freedom in the context of the Passover story.

“Jews are more diverse than many realize,” says Diane Tobin, CEO of Be’chol Lashon, which advocates for the ethnic and racial ​diversity of the Jewish people. “We focus on unique expressions of Passover around the world, while coming together over the universal Jewish story of Exodus. Our goal is to spark conversations, connecting the journey from slavery to freedom to the ongoing fight for racial justice.”

The Haggadah insert, with artwork from illustrator Shane W. Evans, is framed around the seder passage Avadmin Hayinu, Hebrew for “we were slaves.” The resource asks each participant to consider what it means to begin retelling the story of Exodus with the words, “we were slaves,” and leads one to explore today’s “fight for freedom on interpersonal, systemic, global and local levels” through the lens of the seder.

Print-at-home Trivia Place Cards offer a fun, interactive way to celebrate Passover rituals and traditions from diverse Jewish communities while also amplifying the multiplicity of identities and experiences within the American Jewish community. Trivia questions include, “Why do Jews from Gibraltar sprinkle a little bit of brick dust into their charoset?” Answer: “To remind them of the bricks that the Israelite slaves were forced to make.”

People not hosting their own seders, but who still want to use these resources at the seder’s they attend, can sign up to have the resources sent directly to their seder host at weRepair.org/Passover. Others looking to connect Passover with volunteer service, to bring #MemoryToAction, can search for volunteer opportunities at weRepair.org/Volunteer.

Repair the World’s ten-month call for young people to Act Now has included the 2017 High Holidays (Act Now for a Different Kind of Service), Thanksgiving (Act Now Against Hunger), MLK Day (Act Now for Racial Justice); Purim (# ShareHerStory), and concludes with the Jewish holiday of Passover. Repair the World has found that during special times in the calendar people are looking to root their celebration in issues that they care about. Over 223,000 people participated in the digital Purim campaign and nearly 10,000 people participated in service experiences as part of MLK Day’s Act Now for Racial Justice.

“Right now, people across the country, specifically young people, are looking for ways to engage their friends, families, and neighbors in conversations about what matters most to them,” says Laura Belinfante of Repair the World, the largest Jewish service organization in the country. “Holidays, specifically Jewish holidays, are the perfect time to open up conversations about social issues with loved ones. We are excited to see people apply learnings from our history towards action today.”

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Be’chol Lashon and Repair the World Create New Passover Seder Supplements

This article originally appeared in e-Jewish Philanthropy on March 13, 2018.

By EJP

To spark conversations connecting the ancient Passover Exodus story to modern struggles for freedom, Be’chol Lashon and Repair the Word are teaming up to offer specially designed seder supplements this Passover. The materials, part of the Passover campaign, #MemoryToAction, encourage seder participants to engage in meaningful, sometimes difficult conversations about how we talk about individual and systemic struggles for freedom in the context of the Passover story.

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Repair the World People: Ken Regal of Just Harvest

In the month leading up to Passover, Repair the World is sharing stories that highlight the on-the-ground ways our fellows, volunteers, and partner organizations serve in solidarity to turn the tables on racial injustice. Today, meet Ken Regal, a pioneer of the food justice movement and Executive Director of Just Harvest in Pittsburgh. Then, join our Passover campaign and help us serve in solidarity by hosting and volunteering. Together we can #ActNowForRacialJustice.

These days, food justice is at the forefront of American consciousness. But back in the mid-1980s, years if not decades ahead of its time, Just Harvest pioneered a dynamic anti-hunger organization in Pittsburgh. By linking local poverty with global food challenges – they are talking about food deserts before it was even a term – and combining holistic direct service with education and advocacy, they have become one of the country’s most important food justice organizations.

Over the past 30 years, Just Harvest has stayed true to its core principles that food is a fundamental right and that all people – regardless of their background or circumstances – are entitled to “dignity, rights, and a voice in the policies that affect them.” At the ground level, they help connect low income families to public services like food stamps and school meals, and help foster increased access to healthy, fresh foods within underserved neighborhoods. They also are a resource for individuals and families who need subsidized help with income tax preparation.

On the advocacy level, they lobby and educate on these same issues – childhood hunger, a compassionate approach to benefits, and healthy food access. “Some people see us as mostly an organization that directly helps low income people,” said co-founder and Executive Director, Ken Regal. “But our roots are in policy.”
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Repair Interview: Martin Storrow of Keys for Refugees

Finding out that there are 60 million refugees and displaced people around the globe can be overwhelming. It can be terribly difficult to know how to help, or even where to begin a conversation. That’s why Martin Storrow and Rachel Brandt founded Keys for Refugees – a brand new, grassroots campaign to help raise awareness about the world’s refugee population. Their idea is simple, but profound: keys are a symbol of home, security, and comfort. And they can help to “unlock” important stories.

Through Keys for Refugees, people can purchase red keys for themselves or friends that serve as a reminder and a starting point for conversation. A portion of the proceeds from the keys goes to HIAS, the oldest refugee resettlement organization in America, and Repair the World’s partner in our #SupportforRefugees campaign. We recently spoke with Storrow to find out more about the inspiration behind Keys for Refugees, how people and organizations are using their keys, and how you can get involved with this inspiring movement.

Can you tell me a bit more about the inspiration behind Keys For Refugees?
I was in Europe around the time the Syrian refugee crisis was reaching a tipping point, and the things I saw really affected me. I’ll never forget the images of families sleeping on train station floors, living their lives very publicly with nowhere to go. When I came home, Rachel and I started having conversations about what we could do to help the 60 million people who are currently displaced around the world.

The more we spoke about this with our families and friends, the more we began to realize how powerful a conversation can be. We started Keys For Refugees with the simple idea that a key can unlock a conversation, a conversation can lead to action, and a series of actions can change the world.

How did you decide to donate the proceeds to HIAS?
We believe that every person should have a place to call home. We see the 60 million displaced people around the world as individuals – each with dreams, each hoping not just to survive, but to contribute. HIAS not only helps to provide relief to those who are displaced, but also helps to resettle refugees and ensure that they have a support system so they can thrive. We love that their mission is rooted in Jewish values, and were really impressed by the HIAS/Repair the World #SupportForRefugees partnership. There are many wonderful organizations that are supporting refugees around the world, but we were excited to make HIAS our first partner in this campaign.

Can you share a story that demonstrates the impact of your work?
The campaign is still new (we just had our pre-launch last month), but we’re already seeing an impressive response from those in our networks and in the Jewish community. We were really moved by the connections people were making to Passover. One organization, for example (The Well in Detroit), set fifty red keys on their seder table so they could start conversations about those making their own modern day journeys to freedom. That was really inspiring.

What’s the best way for people to get involved?
The simplest thing you can do is visit our website to buy a red key or gift one to a friend. We have ‘key’ facts there too, so you can start unlocking conversations – whether in-person or by posting in social media. This is a huge humanitarian challenge, and it can certainly feel daunting, but big change often starts with small actions. We’re at the beginning of something special, and we’re excited to bring people together to raise awareness, spread hope, and help build a movement.