Why is this year different from all other years? On all other years, we celebrate new Haggadot together, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives. We disagree about many things, and we argue about them at the Seder.
But this year, as we watch a minority-elected president attack the press, the courts, immigrants and allies around the world, it feels like the opposite of “seder,” which means “order.’ It feels, to many of us, like a new pharaoh has arisen — arbitrary, capricious and mean.
This year, our Haggadah roundup is a special edition of Haggadot that foreground social justice concerns, so that your Seder can be a relevant discussion of topics like liberation, migration, human rights, resistance and the Israelites’ experience of being a hated minority of foreigners.
Naturally, all Haggadot touch on these themes, but here are some that focus on those themes specifically.
Historically speaking, these Haggadot owe their existence to two moments in Jewish leftist history: the 1920s and the 1960s. The first was when the phenomenon of the Third Seder offered a radical, Yiddish, and often socialist alternative to the traditional ritual. These grew in popularity for decades, with rival Zionist and non-Zionist versions competing for attendees.
These days, the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeiter Ring still puts out a terrific, justice-themed Haggadah. omitting much of the traditional liturgy in favor of secular, socialist texts in Yiddish and English. On its own, the Arbeiter Ring Haggadah may be too specialized for most people, but it remains the perfect addition to a conventional Seder.
The other major root of today’s social justice Haggadah was the Freedom Seder, written by (now-Rabbi) Arthur Waskow and published by Ramparts in February 1969. Inspired by the civil rights movement, and in particular by the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Freedom Seder was a watershed moment in the history of American Judaism. It was intersectional before intersectional was a word, and its ritual innovation presaged the subsequent half-century of Jewish liturgical production.
These are the classics — but 2017 has a stellar new entry in the field as well.
One of the most courageous and controversial social justice rabbis of our day, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, has this year produced a beautiful and justice-focused Haggadah, A World Beyond Borders. I rarely do this, but Gottlieb’s promotional text is spot on: A World Beyond Borders is indeed “a joyful and spirited retelling of the Passover Haggadah that celebrates the whole human community and lifts up voices of resistance and artful transformation.” Beautiful, personal, progressive, perhaps even radical, “A World Beyond Borders” is my pick for the Haggadah Of The Year. Especially this year.
Over the years there have been numerous individually and institutionally created Haggadot in a similar vein. As longtime readers might expect, I gravitate toward the former ones. I love the authenticity of quirky, handmade Haggadot. They’re often labors of love, and reflect someone’s genuine creative-spiritual vision. How often do you find that in today’s world?
One example is the Love And Justice In Times Of War Haggadah, created in 2003 by Dara Silverman and Micah Bazant. (How innocent 2003 seems now.) It’s chock-full of well-curated poems, quotes and hard-left interpretations of the Seder symbols. Using the Love And Justice Haggadah requires some preparation; it rightly warns users that they’ll be up all night if they read every word. And if you’re triggered by the word “Palestine,” you better look elsewhere. But the Haggadah is also awesome, with most of the traditional liturgy and tons of provocative social justice commentary. And it’s free. If your 2017 word of the year is “resistance,“ it can’t be beat.
On the institutional side, American Jewish World Service has updated its now-wistfully titled Next Year In A Just World: A Global Justice Haggadah, which was first published last year. Like the first version, this is somewhere between a social justice Haggadah and a glossy development tool for AJWS (not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially this year). It’s less crunchy and less radical than some of the others, but also much more accessible and suitable for an ideologically diverse family. No trigger warnings needed in this one — but still plenty of prompts to have the kind of conversations we need to be having this year. If you prefer a shorter Seder and want something clear and visually appealing to print and pass around, Next Year In A Just World may be just the solution.
In addition to these Haggadot, there are several supplements that have been published over the years. For example, the Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek has put out a supplement with social justice themed commentaries and “action items” keyed to different parts of the service. And Tikkun magazine typically puts out excellent annual supplements, though the 2017 one was not online at press time. Be sure to preview the text before sharing all of it with your Trumpist Uncle Irv.
There is also a host of special-interest justice Haggadah supplements. Chances are, you can Google your favorite cause and find a Seder supplement devoted to it. Example? There’s a fair-trade-chocolate-themed Haggadah supplement accompanying the book “On The Chocolate Trail,” featuring the “Three Chocolate Symbols Of Passover”: certified chocolate, chocolate-covered matzo and, of course, bittersweet.
And, at Haggadot.com you can assemble your own justice-themed Haggadah that might even please Uncle Irv.
Then again, the Passover Seder is not about pleasing one another; it’s about afflicting the comfortable, reminding us that, as James Baldwin said to Angela Davis (in a quote I learned in the “Love And Justice Haggadah”), “if they come for you in the morning, they’ll be coming for us at night.”
Another way to put that is to paraphrase Exodus 22:21: You shall not oppress or mistreat the stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt. That’s what we have to remember each year — that we were strangers, we are strangers, and we will be strangers again. And that’s why, in fact, every Haggadah is a social justice Haggadah.
Jay Michaelson is a Forward contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter, @JayMichaelson
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