Our Freedom Seder

This post is part of an archived series of blogs called The LeVine Line, written by former Ambassador Suzan G. LeVine during her time at U.S. Embassy Bern.

17 March 2015

The Jewish holiday of Passover commemorates the Exodus story, which shares that, thousands of years ago, Moses led my ancestors out of slavery in Egypt.

On April 3, 2015, I held a Seder unlike any I’ve attended or conducted.  It was new for me for several reasons:

  1. We had a more diverse group – including Imams, Priests, Pastors, religious community leaders, and more – all at one table.
  2. We used a Haggadah (the guidebook) that I had compiled – instead of using a pre-published Haggadah.
  3. It was in Switzerland.

Every year since I was born, my family – like many other Jewish families – has gathered with friends and community members from all walks of life and many different backgrounds to retell the story, observe various cultural traditions, celebrate our freedom AND recognize that our freedom should not be taken for granted.

This year, however, we took that to a new level and put together a Freedom Seder in which we wanted those who joined us to talk about today’s world and those who still do not enjoy freedom. And then, we looked deep inside ourselves to identify what we can do to affect change.  Here are just some of the discussions we had/exercises we did:

  • Plagues of today: In addition to reciting the traditional 10 plagues that were unleashed upon Pharoah to persuade him to let the Jews go, we came up with some of the things keeping all people from freedom.  Here’s the list:
  1. Injustice
  2. Intolerance
  3. Climate Change
  4. We discussed that many of the plagues from then are still upon us now – but in the form of diseases like Ebola, MERS, Super-Bugs, etc…
  5. We discussed that the literal darkness in the story manifests itself as a figurative darkness today known as ignorance and misinformation.
  6. Hunger
  7. Poverty
  8. Brutality
  9. Apathy & indifference & complacency
  10. Sexism, racism & unequal opportunities
  11. And more…
  • We also described counter-plagues:
  1. Love for all, hatred for none (which also happens to be the motto of the Muslim group whose Imams joined us for the Seder)
  2. Living by the philosophy that if you love the Creator, then you love all of the creations – with justice
  3. Having gatherings like the one we were having – where people from diverse backgrounds come together to meet each other face to face – and get to know that the others are human – even if they have different faiths and beliefs
  4. And we also discussed that every single person has the power to make a difference – so it’s incumbent upon all of us to do something to address these plagues.
  5. One concept on which I’m still chewing is that of recognizing that the various characters in almost every story are frequently found within ourselves.  So – within each of us there might be a little bit of Miriam, Moses, Aaron and Yocheved – brave, soulful, spiritual, and harmonious.  But – within each of us, there might be a little Pharoah – afraid, insecure, vengeful, and….well… you know where I’m going. So the question is – what do we do about that.  How do we reconcile that?  How do we strengthen our executive functioning in order to amplify the first set and quell/diminish that Pharoah?  I don’t know the answer, but suspect that it’s part of each of our life journeys!

Here you will find the Haggadah that I compiled from a variety of sources and that fostered this rich discussion and introspection.

Even just this exercise of compilation opened my eyes to new practices, thoughts, and ideas.  I hope that, by perusing this, it will have a similar effect on you.  I’ve included the links to those sources on the last page of the Haggadah – so please feel free to use/reuse/share/etc…

And as you do – I hope, like me, you take the time to reexamine some of the old tropes and then re-phrase and reposition them with an eye towards inclusiveness, diversity, equality and justice.  If you do, please also feel free to share on my Facebook page or through Twitter – I am AmbSuzi on both.

Whether you celebrate Easter (and did you know that many scholars believe that The Last Supper was a Passover Seder?), Passover, or some other holiday – I hope and pray that you join me in this quest to of Tikkun Olam –  making the world a better place for all.

Here is the full photo album from the Seder.