On Wednesday evening, April 5, 2017, AIA 2020 Director Marro attended the Washington Hebrew Congregation sponsored freedom Seder, with invited members of their congregation and many Interfaith guests from the Muslim, Christian, seek and other Faith communities throughout the Washington DC area. This annual Passover celebration event brings together many people of faith in the Washington area, and this year had nearly 300 persons celebrating the struggle for freedom by Jews as well as Christians, Muslims, and people of many other faiths, over the past hundreds and even thousands of years.
This ancient Festival of Passover celebrates the freedom won by early Hebrew slaves from the Egyptian Pharaoh, after being pressed by the Prophet Moses to release them from captivity. Long before the Exodus of these Israelite slaves, however, Hebrew Believers in Egypt celebrated a Festival of the Shepherds to mark the arrival of Spring, and as a way of giving thanks to Almighty God for his goodness to mankind.
The departure of the Israelite slaves, Believers in One God as opposed to the pantheon of Egyptian Gods (including the Pharaoh himself), from Egypt during this Spring Festival gave new historical significance to this ancient rite. This holiday of matzot or unleavened bread commemorates the emancipation of the Believers From Slavery, and as a reminder of the hurried flight of the Israelites from Egypt, before they had time to bake leavened cakes of dough into normal loaves of bread.
After the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in CE 70, and dispersal of the Israelites across the known world of the time, the Seder service recalls the traditional rites of the service done at that Temple previously, and the ritual reverence needed to stimulate Believers with hope of new life and Liberty. Celebrating this Festival, Jewish people traditionally declare prayerfully, “this year we are slaves; next year may we be free.”
This dream of a world in which all people will be free, and will live in peace, inspires the Freedom Seder ceremony in 2017, and will continue to do so until the world is truly free.
As various interfaith readers from the audience participated in the Seder ceremony, the telling of the story of the Exodus was related to the situation so many people face today, showing that the Quest for freedom is never far from mankind. Recalling the 10 plagues that God brought upon the Egyptians when the Pharaoh refused to free the Believers, reminds us the world is not yet free of adversity and struggle. This is especially true for refugees, who typically flee their homelands because of violence that grows as the conflicts escalate.
A 1949 poll by the American Institute of public opinion found that more than 60% of Americans opposed bringing Jewish refugees to the United States in the wake of World War II. That same xenophobia has never completely subsided, and has seen a great Resurgence over the past several years, very much evident through workplace discrimination bias attacks against Muslim and other refugees, and a rising spate of anti-refugee legislation across America.
Celebrating this Seder feast shows our ties with our brothers and sisters in this in this world who are not yet free, as we eat of the Bread of Affliction known as Matzoh. As Abraham Lincoln said in 1858, “Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage and you prepare your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of others, you have lost the genius of your own independence and become the fit subject of the first cunning Tyrant to rise among you.”
And as Nelson Mandela echoed nearly 150 years later, “Freedom is indivisible. The chains on any one of my people are the chains and all of them, the chains and all of my people are the chains on me. The oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed….I am not free if I am taking away someone else’s Freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken away from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of all their Humanity.”
The dream of a world in which all people will be free and live in speak in peace inspires this Seder ceremony, just as it inspires all of us at AIA 2020 to push for such interfaith dialogue, communication and Joint celebration. We are all part of an Indivisible America, and we all look forward to making an Indivisible America a complete reality for the year 2020.
Robert Marro, Executive Director
Alliance for an Indivisible America 2020 (AIA 2020)