The Freedom Seder, radical but not Messianic

As I wrote here before I  like to get ready for Passover by reading the original Freedom Seder which took place on April 4, 1969, the first anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, the third night of Passover.

Hundreds of people of varied racial and religious communities gathered in a Black church in the heart of Washington DC to celebrate the original Freedom Seder. For the first time, it [explicitly] intertwined the ancient story of liberation from Pharaoh with the story of Black America’s struggle for liberation, and the liberation of other peoples as well.

 

As radical as they were for the time, I noticed something a bit sad this time through:

How much then are we in duty bound to struggle, work, share, give, think, plan, feel, organize, sit-in, speak out, hope, and be on behalf of Mankind! For we must end the genocide [in Vietnam],* stop the bloody wars that are killing men and women as we sit here, disarm the nations of the deadly weapons that threaten to destroy us all, end the brutality with which the police beat minorities in many countries, make sure that no one starves, free the poets from their jails, educate us all to understand their poetry, allow us all to explore our inner ecstasies, and encourage and aid us to love one another and share in the human fraternity. All these! For, as is said, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree, and none shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken. For let all the peoples walk each one in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.”

* Insert any that is current—such as “Biafra,” “Black America,” etc.—depending on the situation.

 

With all its calls and hope for”Liberation Now! Next Year in a World of Freedom”, it still acknowledged that each year or era ahead would have its own  war crimes or genocide to talk about at the seder. So in this part of the Freedom Seder there is not exactly a vision of a utopia or Messianic future, but more along the lines of

לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמוֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה

It is not your duty to complete the work. But neither are you free to desist from it.

 

Video of the seder is below:

 

 

Enjoy a young Arthur Waskcow and Rabbi Balfour Brickner and Rev. Channing Phillips. Rev. Phillips tells abortion jokes. It was filmed by the CBC. (Yes you have your 1960s era well funded Canadian public broadcaster to thank for this historic footage.)

You can get a copy of the haggadah in pdf here.

Advertisements
Posted in Judaism and Social Justice, Liberal Judaism | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hagbah observant progressive feminist Jews talking about Torah, egalitarian practice texts and Jewish life

New fb discussion group if you are interested join us

Hagbah: observant progressive feminist Jews talking about Torah, egalitarian practice texts and Jewish life

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Oh Tonight We’ll Merry, Merry Be -for Tomorrow We’ll be Sober

For generations Jewish children have sung a classic ditty for the holiday of Purim called “Once Where was a Wicked, Wicked Man and Haman Was His Name-o.” The chorus, as you may know from your own Purim festivities, goes “For today we’ll merry, merry be (x3) and nosh some hamantaschen.”

Some research reveals that this classic Purim jingle full of odd turns of phrase has its origins in the 19th-centuryEnglish drinking song, “Landlord Fill The Flowing Bowl.”

Consider:

Landlord fill the flowing bowl, until it doth run over (x4)

Chorus: For tonight we’ll merry, merry be (x3)
tomorrow we’ll be sober.

Here’s to the lad who drinks dark ale and goes to bed quite mellow (x2)
He lives as he ought to live, he’ll die a happy fellow (x2)
Chorus

Here’s to the lad drinks water pure and goes to bed quite sober (x2)
He falls as the leaves do fall, he falls as the leaves do fall (x2) 
Chorus

Read more and listen here:

http://thejewniverse.com/2015/the-old-english-drinking-song-about-haman-and-esther/

We modern Jews like to think we have a monopoly on snark and inside jokes, but here is  definite evidence of a kindred spirit winking at us from the past.

 

And for the record- While the B-I-N-G-O has the same or a similar tune- it does not have the same chorus.

 

Note: someone else noticed this 10 years ago.

Posted in Liturgy | Leave a comment

Learning about spirituality from Oliver Sacks

Decades ago I was a Judaic programming director at a camp for children (and also a vacation lodge for adults later on in the summer) who were  developmentally disabled or had a dual diagnosis .

While the actual programming was an exciting challenge (I wrote an appropriate sidur, planned experiential learning, challah baking and  homemade havdallah candles), when it came to the staff training I was stumped.

By necessity, the staff were a combination of Jews and non-Jews (who cared about developmentally disabled people and wanted to work in a camp with a good reputation). And the majority of the Jewish staff were there primarily for the same reason.

My training was to convince the staff that all this Jewish programming and prayer was worthwhile despite the fact that some of the people we were served were non-verbal or non-Hebrew speakers or not able to articulate the concepts of religion. And since this was the first few days of camp, this was my chance to win or lose the respect  of the staff.

To my rescue came Oliver Sacks. In his books there are few very moving essays about how church and shul routines and songs helped comfort and support people people like our campers.

For my training of the staff I got up and read theses essays. I  spent no time on explaining  shabbat or brachot.

And it worked. There was less grumbling during prayers ( not none, but less). People gave me and Judaism at camp a chance. One of the French Canadian kitchen staff, who was under no obligation to do so learned the first paragraph of birkat hamazon so he could sing along with us. And he asked me what it meant.

That time more than 20 years ago was the first time I saw how Dr.Sacks was a powerfully spiritual man and writer ( though that is not how we usually see him).

Yesterday was the second time I was struck deeply by his spirituality, when I read his essay on finding out he is dying. A beautiful prayer and lesson.

 

Posted in Inclusion, Liturgy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A light-hearted guide to women’s kippot

The Forward recently published a guide to yamulkes and what they mean. Disappointingly, they did not included any kippot worn by women. And that is where I come in…

When Women Wear Kippahs

images-9 images-6

(I did not choose the title)

Posted in Feminism and Jewish Ritual & Practice, Jewish Humour, Liberal Judaism | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Frog and Toad Christmas story – a Jewish FAIL

For whatever reason this is one of my most liked blog posts of all time- for those of you who missed it the first time around…

Rainbow Tallit Baby

As a huge fan of the Frog and Toad series, I have read all the books with two of my kids (so far). On the most recent reading of Frog and Toad All Year, I noticed something odd about the last story which is a heart-warming Christmas story. It is obvious that the author, Arnold Lobel, has never experienced Christmas, even though he tries hard to fake it.

Here is the story, Christmas Eve, and how it screams “Arnold Lobel is a Jew”.

The opening line: “On Christmas Eve Toad cooked a big dinner.”

Yes, Toad is expecting Frog for a big dinner he cooked and plans to serve on Christmas Eve. Arnold, even though Jewish holidays start the night before, with a big meal (of course) and even though the day before Christmas is called Christmas Eve, Christmas dinner is actually eaten on Christmas DAY. Also note the focus…

View original post 393 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It wasn’t the “grassroots” of Orthodoxy. It was liberal Jews.

There is a fascinating (to me anyway) and respectful debate about Partnership Minyanim going on in a multi-part series over at Modern Torah Leadership. It starts off with an essay by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper,  Are Partnership Minyanim Orthodox?  and then includes responses from Rabbi Dr. Martin Lockshin, Malka Simkovich, Shira Hecht-Koller, and Dr. Yoel Finkelman.

While the essays contain very interesting exchanges on the nature of rabbinic authority and how vital it is for Orthodoxy and how Partnership minyanim challenge it, I could not help focusing on another aspect of the exchange.

In his pro-Partnership Minyanim essay, Rabbi Lockshin writes on the issue of enacting change that does not come from rabbinic innovation but is driven by the will of the laity:

Partnership Minyanim do not have the support of the “gedolim,” the great Torah sages of our generation. In this, PMs are like many other innovations introduced into modern Orthodoxy in the last two hundred years—they proceeded from the grass roots. Many of them later won the (often grudging) approval of some gedolim. In this category I would list, among others:

  • Sermons in shul in the vernacular.
  • Beardless rabbis.
  • Believing that the world is more than 6000 years old.
  • Bat mitzvah celebrations.
  • Orthodox Jews studying humanistic subjects in a university.
  • Women’s tefillah groups.
  • Women teaching Torah to men.
  • Women reciting mourner’s kaddish in shul.

Implementing these innovations, it was argued in almost every case, would ultimately lead people to abandon Orthodoxy. Rabbi Henkin has made the same claim about PMs. Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik took another approach when he gave his unenthusiastic support to women reciting mourner’s kaddish in an Orthodox shul. He said that if we did NOT permit this, women would be likely to go to a Conservative shul to say kaddish.

While Rabbi Lockshin is a scholar and real mentch and is paving an admirable path in a difficult landscape, I have to disagree with him here.

The list of innovations he lists above did not originate directly in the Orthodox laity. Every innovation listed (OK so maybe not the university thing) was something that was started by liberal Jews and which they were ridiculed, called ‘treif’ and rejected by Orthodox Judaism of the time for. Do your really think that Orthodox women would have begged to say Kaddish in droves if that was something that was not done without comment for decades by their liberal sisters? Rabbi Soloveitchik’s response reveals the truth- that women wanted basic ritual rights they saw in other denominations and would have left Orthodoxy to get them. So while the laity may have asked for these changes, they originated elsewhere. And while he is less blunt, Rabbi Lockshin echos the idea that modifying Orthodoxy to meet women’s needs is far preferable to having them go to a Conservative minyan.

Within Orthodoxy, change driven by the demands of the laity are indeed threatening, but more so is change driven by innovations in other denominations.

Advocates of Partnership Minyanim and other forms of Open Orthodoxy  are facing a lot of threats with Orthodoxy and a lot of pressure. They are threatened with being called illegitimate and having their rulings  and their conversions declared invalid. Being the face of these movements requires a fair amount of courage.

I wish these advocates also had the courage acknowledge their links and debts to liberal Judaism, without shame, and not discount the history, contributions and the validity of religious innovation that originated within it. I say this even though doing so I know would create more problems for their reputations in the eyes of their more fundamentalist colleagues.

Posted in Feminism and Jewish Ritual & Practice, Liberal Judaism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments