Ten Of The Best Social Justice Haggadah Supplements For Your Seder Table
Every year, Jews are commanded to remember our people's exodus from Egypt as if it were our own, and Jews whose mothers mailed them carefully clipped New Yorker stories at college with Post-it notes saying 'Of interest!" are commanded to bring social justice supplements to the Seder table.
On Passover, Jews use a book called the Haggadah, which quite literally means "telling," to retell the biblical Exodus story. Though the task of remembering Egypt as if we ourselves had been enslaved has been practiced across the world for millennia, the liberal Jewish tradition of expressly bringing social justice to the table largely dates back to the 1969 Freedom Seder, where—on the first anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s death—civil rights leader and rabbi Arthur Waskow led 800 Jews and Christians in a church-basement Seder that looked at the shared liberation of African Americans and Jews.
In the the nonstop onslaught of 2017, the Passover saying that "Wherever you live, it is probably Egypt," is more apt than ever. But how do you make that relevant at our own Seder table? I'm not going to tell anyone how to pray, but if you can sit at a Seder table and remember how your ancestors were strangers in a strange land without pausing to think about how Passover 5777 is different from other nights, you are probably doing it wrong. Here are ten of our favorite social justice Haggadot (the plural of Haggadah) and Haggadah supplements.
Here is the text of that original "Freedom Seder" Haggadah, first published in Ramparts Magazine in 1969. It soon "became the model and stimulus for many Haggadot that made the Passover Seder an affirmation of the liberation of its celebrants — feminist Haggadot, environmentalist Haggadot, antiwar Haggadot, vegetarian Haggadot, pro-labor Haggadot," according to the Shalom Center.
If you follow this massive document to a "T," you will likely never make it to dinner time, but we highly suggest leafing through and picking a few passages that you find relevant. Created by two longtime activist/organizers, this Haggadah is incredibly rich, with a great deal of relevant side readings and poetry. A few parts are dated since it was published in 2003, but most still ring true, for better or worse. If you want to choose one justice-y Haggadah to adopt wholesale, this is probably the one—just remember you don't have to read everything aloud at the table.
Jews For Racial & Economic Justice collaborated with activists from around the country on this nine-page Haggadah supplement, which was first published in 2015. It uses the Seder traditions to highlight the role they believe Jews must play in confronting racism and abusive policing, and has a particularly strong take on the Four Questions and the Cup of Elijah, as well as a wealth of information about discriminatory policing.
Jews who want to bring issues of racial justice to their Seder tables will also be well served by including The Jewish Working Group to End the New Jim Crow's Passover supplement on mass incarceration, which uses Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow to create an alternative Four Questions about the role of mass incarceration in America.
How should Jews, who come in all colors, engage in racial justice? This supplement uses the Four Questions to examine just that, with passages on how four different roles ("the newcomer," "the questioner," "the avoider," and "the Jew of color") can and should take part.
Bend the Arc's 2012 food and justice-themed Haggadah was created in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, and the it uses the traditional four glasses of wine from the Seder to look at issues of food insecurity in modern-day America, including food workers' rights.
This immigration-themed Haggadah from 2012 was made in collaboration with a long list of D.C.-area labor groups, who worked together to create a retelling of the Exodus story that is particularly relevant to the struggles of working people, and immigrants in America. It's probably the only Haggadah you will find with an incredibly detailed, full-page flowchart illustrating the complexities of legal immigration (page 11) or a detailed explanation of the Department of Homeland Security's "Secure Communities" program (pages 17 to 18). Despite being a few years old, this Haggadah feels especially apt for Passover 5777. Their version of the Ten Plagues, as they apply to immigration (pages 20 to 22) is especially powerful.
Jews For Racial & Economic Justice's 2017 Haggadah focuses specifically on racialized policing in Baltimore, but it could be applicable anywhere, "from departments around the country (such as the NYPD and the Ferguson Police Department) to federal law enforcement (such as immigration policing)," as the authors write in their preface. This Haggadah looks at the historical origins of current policing issues, from the War on the Drugs to real estate redlining practices, and contains a wealth of factual information to draw on.
This short supplement looking at the stories of immigrants in detention is another topical addition to any Seder table, and the use of individual human stories makes it especially powerful.
HIAS's 2017 Haggadah supplement puts Passover in the context of the 65 million displaced people around the world today, fleeing persecution and violence. I particularly like the readings they offer for Yachatz, or the Seder tradition of breaking the middle matzah (pages 2 to 4).