Beyond the Freedom Seder: When Hand Cuffs are Freedom


Last night (March 29, 2013), the National Museum of American Jewish History (located near Independence Hall in the heart of Philadelphia’s and America’s most historic district),  held a program called “The Freedom Seder Revisited.” It drew on the memory of the original Freedom Seder  that I wrote and helped to lead on April 4, 1969 – the first anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, and the third night of Passover.
 
The Freedom Seder broke “the rules”  of typical Seders. For the first time ever, it wove another story of liberation — the modern story of liberation struggles of Black America from racism —  along with the ancient story of the liberation struggles of ancient Israelites against Pharaoh.
 
The Freedom Seder released the pent-up energy of young American Jews into discovering we could write our own haggadot. Feminists, peace activists, anti-imperialists, vegetarians, those seeking spiritual self-discovery – all realized they, we, could speak and act toward liberation. Through Passover we could see and speak the many faces of freedom.
 
The Museum last night invited me to tell the story of how I came to create the Freedom Seder – to share a “snapshot” from the past. But I said that instead of providing a snapshot of the past, I wanted to share a motion-picture moving into the future. I told the story of our action at the White House, culminating in our arrest. (I never felt freer than when the handcuffs were put on — free because I had done what was needed, what I felt Called to do by the many cultures and myriad life-forms of our planet, by YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh., the Interbreathing Spirit of all life.)

At the Museum, I chanted several of the Ten Plagues of today – Fracking, Asthma, Drought, Superstorms  — and asked the gathering to follow each one by calling out, “Sorrow.” I chanted a few of the Ten Healings of today – Greening our households, Renewing public transport, Divesting from Big Carbon, and asked the gathering to follow each one by calling out, “L’Chaim, To Life.”
 
Then others spoke, all in some way living on the fringes:  –a radical Hispanic-American poet, a Korean-American member of the City Council, a Black and a white minister from churches that long ago separated because of white racism and that now are engaged with each other, a fringe artist concerned with theater as ritual and ritual as theater, a young African-American educator involved in bringing middle-class teachers together with at-risk kids. Almost all of them took up my theme, pointed toward the future more than to the past.
 
Afterwards a number of people came up to thank me. I noticed something that felt important:
 
Some, those perhaps more than 65 years old, thanked me for writing the original Freedom Seder. Several had old copies that they wanted me to sign.
 
And there came also a number of people in their 20s or early 30s. They thanked me for the White House action. For renewing the massage of Passover for our generation, their generation.  For calling out the modern pharaohs of Big Oil, Big Coal, Unnatural Gas. For reminding us that the Matzah stands for Urgency, the fierce urgency of Now.
 
There is a saying in the traditional Jewish prayers: “Renew our days as of old.” To me this means not “Give us back the good old days,” but “Make our days new again, as once upon a time our days were fresh and new.”
 
 This is what The Shalom Center does. It was we who proposed to IMAC that we draw on the Passover/Holy Week stories and symbols to awaken a new Prophetic call. It is we who have proposed that with a whole year to plan, to create, to organize, that we aim toward sparking hundreds of pre-Passover/ Holy Week actions in April 2014 to address the Ten Plagues of the climate crisis, To awaken Ten Healings of committed action.
 
We sow seeds. Not the seeds of genetic modification that turn sterile one season later, but seeds that flourish and that multiply, taking on new forms as the generations unfold.

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