The Passover seder is Jewish drama. Over the evening, a tale of slavery and liberation, despair and hope, narrow straits and open possibilities unfolds. We experience this drama through food. We lift high the matzah, the bread of affliction, for all to see; we taste the painful maror to remind us of embittered lives and oppressive work; we drink four cups of redemptive wine. Food brings these experiences to life. Through eating, we bring these symbols into our bodies.
The Jewish people have retold this drama every year for literally thousands of years; but each year is different. In every generation we continue the work of the Exodus, continuing to fight for freedom and justice in the world. This year, many Jewish groups are adding a chapter to the seder’s never-ending story of oppression and freedom: food justice.
Uri L’Tzedek, in partnership with Hazon and the Bronfman Alumni Venture Fund, just released their first Food and Justice Haggadah Supplement, (available for free download), featuring 26 essays, insights and action to unite food, social justice and ethical consumption.
The supplement debuted on Sunday, April 10th, when Hazon, Pursue and Uri L’Tzedek hosted a food justice seder in Brooklyn. Using the rich food traditions at the seder, over 65 people gathered to explore the intersections of Passover, food and justice. The event included an eight-step meditation centered around the eating of maror, action around preventing budget cuts to hunger programs, Torah study, information about food justice campaigns across the country, and of course 4 cups of wine.
One contributor to the haggadah, Rachel Berger, writes on the contradiction between the celebratory wine of redemption and those who labor for low wages under difficult conditions to produce that wine.
In “Reflections on Urchatz,” Rabbi Josh Feigelson urges us to move beyond the ritual aspects of kashrut to consider all aspects of ethical food consumption. Merle Feld artfully picks up the same theme of different approaches to ethical consumption in her re-reading of the “Four Sons at the Seder Table.”
In fighting for change in our food system, we face many Egypts: global prices are spiraling, the environment is degrading, hunger and obesity are rising, and the workers who produce our food are facing lower wages and more difficult conditions. This Passover, as we raise our matzo and say: ha lachma anya, this is the bread of affliction, we are called to remember these and the many other afflictions that face our food system.
Let us also remember that matzo is not just about suffering. Ha lachma anya also means this is the bread of answers. The story of Passover is that from the darkest depths comes redemption. From suffering comes healing. From slavery comes freedom. From questions come answers. May we all use this time of Passover to make these transformations, big or small, in our food system, communities, and our selves. Happy Pesach!
Ari Hart is a co-founder of Uri L’Tzedek and rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. A leader of several initiatives that bring together Orthodoxy, the Jewish community and the world at large to make positive change, Ari launched Or Tzedek, the Teen Institute for Social Justice and served on multiple community boards and social justice organizations.