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Labor Seders Across the Country

New England Jewish Labor Committee's 2016 Labor Seder Photo by Michael Massey

April 20, 2016 - 3,500 years ago, the Hebrew slaves gained their freedom from bondage in ancient Egypt. Their liberation has been celebrated for over two millennia with the holiday of Passover. The Jewish Labor Committee celebrates Passover with our own unique flair: our annual Labor Seders! These not only serve to celebrate Passover, but to also bring together local leaders of the labor movement and their counterparts in the organized Jewish community to “break matza,” explore the story of the ancient Israelites from captivity to freedom, and relate that to today’s efforts to secure dignity and security for working men and women, their families and communities. This year, JLC has organized, sponsored or assisted labor seders in Boston, MA, West Orange, NJ, New York, NY, Washington, DC, Madison, WI, and Philadelphia, PA.

This year’s New England JLC Labor Seder had a great turnout, with over 200 attendees in Boston, held at the headquarters of IBEW Local 103. For this year's seder, the NE JLC again produced a new local version of the classic JLC Haggadah. During the ceremony, each of the four cups of wine honored past and current struggles in the Jewish community and the labor movement, including the Fight for $15 and social, criminal, and economic justice, paid sick-leave, paid family leave, and regular work schedules. At this year’s New England Labor Seder, Attorney General Maura Healey received the Clara Lemich Shavelson Award for her work in support of earned sick time and the statewide Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Rabbis David Lerner and Victor Reinstein both received Abraham Joshua Heschel Awards for Rabbinic Justice and Leadership; both have played significant roles in the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis as it goes on record in support of working men and women.

Jewish Labor Committee Educators' Chapter / UFT Jewish Heritage Committee's 2016 Labor Seder in NYC

The JLC Educators’ Chapter (also known in New York City as the United Federation of Teachers’ Jewish Heritage Committee) held its Labor Seder at UFT headquarters; hewing closely to the JLC Passover Haggadah, the 70 participants include not only Educators’ Chapter and other UFT people, but also representatives of the Public Employees Federation of New York.

New Jersey’s Labor Seder, held this year in West Orange, NJ's Jewish Community Center, had a great turnout as well, with over 50 people participating. While they explored some of the struggles noted above, guest speaker Luz Delgado from New Jersey's Working Families Alliance also focused on the devastation wrought by the recent earthquake in Ecuador. The most poignant highlight of the night were the remarks of Holocaust survivor Ruth Ravina, who spent her early childhood in three concentration camps. She told her story about how she and her mother survived at one of the camps by hiding in the barracks. After World War II, the Jewish Labor Committee gave her mother funding to start a soup kitchen in Poland. They endured an arduous journey from Poland to Sweden, then to Canada, to finally arrive in the United States, where her mother was honored by the JLC in 1951.

JLC was also a sponsor of the massive Greater Washington DC Labor Seder, the first one of this holiday season, with 350 people in attendance; the lion’s share of the organizing of DC’s Labor Seders has been done for many years by that city’s Jews United For Justice. This Seder, held at DC’s Adas Israel Synagogue, focused on the Fight for 15, paid sick days, the need for workers to have consistent work schedules, and paid family leave. And we were fortunate to be able to assist in sponsoring Madison Wisconsin’s Labor Seder, a project of the local Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice, held at the Beth Israel Center, had 70 people attending and focused on the Fight for 15, and the challenge of anti-labor legislation.

The last Labor Seder of this season – as far as we know! -- is being organized in Philadelphia, PA, and will take place April 27th.

2016 Labor Seder in Madison, WI Photo courtesy of the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice