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National Faith-Labor Leadership Passover Seder Held in Memphis, TN

Program Coincides with 50th Anniversary of Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Memphis Labor Seder.jpg

April 4, 2018: Memphis, TN -- After bells tolled in this city for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Jewish Labor Committee helped commemorate history: the JLC, AFSCME, the I AM 2018 coalition, and the Church of God in Christ hosted a unique Labor Seder here in Memphis. It combined the observance of Passover with a rededication to the work, words, and legacy of Dr. King. Over 100 people participated in this National Faith-Labor Leadership Passover Seder at the very meeting place where Dr. King and the Memphis sanitation workers gathered five decades earlier to secure the right to organize and bargain collectively. Jewish community figures, labor leaders, organizers, clergy of many traditions and others joined to explore the Passover imagery and themes of the Exodus that often imbued Dr. King’s words. The meeting place, Memphis's Clayborn Temple, a former Presbyterian and AME church and now a nonprofit cultural center for the community, was the starting point for marches and meetings in 1968 by striking AFSCME Local 1733 sanitation workers and their supporters.

The Jewish Labor Committee has organized, cosponsored and inspired local Labor Seders for 18 years. In addition to the event in Memphis, Labor Seders were held this year in Washington DC, Boston MA, Philadelphia PA, New York NY, and Newark NJ. Other Labor Seders have been held in such places as Los Angeles CA, Chicago IL, Detroit MI, St. Louis MO, Ithaca NY, Houston TX, Madison WI, and New Brunswick NJ, and we’ve inspired the organization of similar events as far away as Sydney, Australia.

For Memphis’s National Faith-Labor Leadership Passover Seder, we prepared a special Clayborn Haggadah, with elements of the Jewish Labor Committee Passover Haggadah, readings, prayers, poems and songs relevant to the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King, and the challenges confronting American society in 2018.

Pepole at the Labor Seder heard our own special "Mah Nishtana" -- not the traditional ”Four Questions” read by the youngest in attendance at a seder, but a gospel / soul rendition of Andra Day’s "Rise Up," 90 minutes after the special memorial for Dr. King at the Lorraine Motel/National Civil Rights Museum. Our two soloists -- Kesha Cook and Breyannah Tillman of Memphis's First Congregational Church choir -- led us in this reading, and at other critical points in the program.

Participants in the Memphis Labor Seder included Frederick Albert, President, Kanawha, West Virginia, Federation of Teachers; Stuart Appelbaum, President, Jewish Labor Committee and RWDSU; James Boland, President, Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers; Steve Cohen, Congressman, 9th District, Tennessee; Edgar Fields, President, RWDSU Southeast Council; Debbie Goldstein, Carolina Jews for Justice; Reverend Sekinah Hamlin, Center for Responsible Lending; Deondra Henderson, Clayborn Temple; Arlene Holt Baker, former Executive Vice President, AFL-CIO; Rabbi Sarit Horwitz, Beth Sholom Synagogue, Memphis; Sharon Kleinbaum, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, New York [who was also at the rally in July - see box, next page]; Deacon Henry Littleton, Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church; Esther Lopez, UFCW Secretary-Treasurer; Reverend Terrence Melvin, President, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; Rabbi Barbara Penzner, New England JLC Co-chair and Rabbi, Temple Hillel B'nai Torah in West Roxbury, MA; Tom Perez, former U.S. Secretary of Labor; Camille Rivera, RWDSU Political Director; Lee Saunders, President, AFSCME; Rabbi Abe Schacter-Gampel, Memphis; Damon Silvers, director of policy and special counsel, AFL-CIO; Ann Smith, Workers Interfaith Network of Memphis; Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York; Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers; Bishop Dickerson Wells, COGIC Auxiliary Bishop for TN & Eastern Jurisdiction; and Dominick Whitehead, Political Action Representative, AFSCME and IAM2018.

While the intersection of the 50th commemoration of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the holiday of Passover, and the presence of local and national religious, political, civil rights and union people was unique, the JLC looks forward to bringing together at similar programs in the coming year.