Today, Dr. Martin Luther King’s official Birthday, and the day after the third great Women's March, we are living in the midst of a national and a planetary crisis that echoes his passionate commitment to freedom and justice.
So I am writing today to invite you to an event on April 7 that will link Dr. King to the long history of liberation struggles before him and to the “fusion struggles” for liberation we are living today.
For 3000 years, ancient Israelites and their Jewish descendants have each year, at the full moon of the moonth of spring, remembered and renewed an ancient liberation movement through the Passover Seder. It is a sacred ritual meal, framed by the Telling (in Hebrew, Haggadah) of the story of the ancient liberation of the children of Israel from slavery to Pharaoh in Mitzrayyim, the Hebrew for the “Tight and Narrow Place” -- the Hebrew name for ancient Egypt.
The meal includes several ritual foods – among them a Bitter Herb in memory of the bitterness of slavery and Matzah, the unleavened bread that the runaway slaves baked and ate on the night of Exodus. – unleavened because there was no time to wait for the dough to rise. The matzah embodies what a half-century ago Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of Now.”
For all those centuries, the Passover Seder celebrated only moments of Jewish liberation. Fifty years ago, on April 4, 1969, for the first time in all those 3,000 years, we celebrated a “Freedom Seder” that wove together the Jewish liberation struggle with other struggles for freedom -- especially Black America’s struggle against racism.
I wrote it because I was possessed by the gripping memory of the murder of Dr. King just a week before Passover 1968, and by the gripping memory of the military occupation of Washington DC by the US Army the day after Dr. King’s death – sent to put down an uprising of the grief-stricken, outraged Black community. “Pharaoh’s army,” it felt to me at the time.
The next year, on the first anniversary of Dr. King’s death, the Freedom Seder that I wrote was held in the basement of a Black church in Washington, with 800 people -- about half Jewish, the rest both Black and white Christians. It won a broad audience across the country.
Fifty years later, we are in crisis again, facing four aspects of tyranny: the onslaught of racism, hatred of foreigners, and
religious bigotry; of militarism at home and overseas; of worsening poverty and overweening materialistic greed that extends even to wrecking all Earth for the sake of hyperprofits; and worsening official efforts to subjugate women and LGBTQ communities.
On this 50th anniversary, we will move forward again –- taking Dr. King’s clarity, his courage, his commitment into new worlds of freedom, to birth the Beloved Community we all call for.
We expect hundreds of people at the Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50 and at the dinner that precedes it. Pre-registration is necessary – NO walk-ins.
Dinner - 5:00-6:45pm Halal (fish and vegetarian with vegan, gluten-free option)
Seder - 7:00-9:30pm
You can register through the link TINYURL.COM/FREEDOMSEDER50
Congregations and other organizations can arrange a co-sponsorship bearing special benefits by writing Seder@theshalomcenter.org We are planning a live feed for distant communities where you could link to your own Seder; write Seder@theshalomcenter.org to make arrangements.
I look forward to celebrating with you!
Shalom, salaam, paz, peace -- Arthur