Making Passover 2016 about slavery past and present

Millions of Jews throughout the U.S. and around the world face a challenge each year at Passover: how to connect the biblical story of their liberation from slavery to the daily experience of life today. Free the Slaves and a distinguished group of rabbis and Jewish educators have created new materials to educate people attending a Passover Seder about the different dimensions of modern-day slavery, the reasons Jews have a particular responsibility to intervene, and actions that can be taken—individually and collectively—to free slaves now.

The materials are free and available online at:

  • New Passover Materials: Tip sheets and handouts explain how tens of millions are still enslaved worldwide, generating $150 billion in illicit profits for traffickers each year. The brochures outline what Jews can do to take action in 10 hours, 10 minutes or even 10 seconds. More than 90 percent of Jews around the world celebrate Passover with a Seder of some kind. The materials include readings, activities, songs, stories, blessings, foods, photographs, quotations, questions and challenges to engage people of all ages—all designed to help Seder participants find fresh meaning and relevance in the foundational Passover narrative.
  • New Slavery Curriculum: Master educators from different Jewish movements have created innovative teaching materials on modern slavery, as it relates to Jewish history and values. This state-of-the-art curriculum includes materials for every age from kindergarten through adulthood. The curriculum is a valuable tool for Passover preparations, and it can be used throughout the year to teach the Book of Exodus and mitzvot (commandments), such as redeeming captives and loving the stranger.

Free the Slaves Executive Director Maurice Middleberg: “Jews are commanded to ‘Tell your children’ so that the story of the liberation from slavery is never forgotten. When Jews participate in the Seder they fulfill a covenant with history to celebrate freedom. This covenant is also a promise to the present and the future. Delight at liberation in the past must be matched by a commitment to eradicating slavery today. Jews gather at the Seder and ask, ‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’ Let the answer be, ‘We are modern abolitionists and this Passover we are part of the joyous work of liberation.’ The Passover Project provides materials, inspiration and concrete actions that can be taken by Jewish families and communities to join in the task of eradicating slavery.”

Passover Project Founder, Rabbi Debra Orenstein: “Slavery is not historical. It is happening now. And every Jew who sits down to a Seder can help end it. The curriculum is called ‘Next Year, Free!’ because the Haggadah (Seder text) declares: ‘Now, slaves. Next year, free.’ Most translations add a subject: ‘now we are slaves, next year may we be free.’ But I love the absence of a pronoun. The truth is: we might be free. But as long as other human beings are enslaved, no one is free. As Rabbi Israel Salanter taught, the material needs of my neighbor are my spiritual needs. Imagine if Moses, privileged and protected in Pharaoh’s palace, had considered himself free, and done nothing to help liberate the Israelites.”

About the Passover Project
The new materials have been created as part of the Free the Slaves Passover Project, a five-year campaign to enlist Jewish schools, congregations and communities into a network mobilized against human trafficking throughout the year.

Judaism is deeply connected to the themes of slavery and freedom. The Torah instructs in Deuteronomy 24:18: “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there. Therefore, I command you to do [justice].” The enslavement of Jews during biblical times—and their subsequent exodus—are a central narrative not only for Jewish people, but for others who have found hope in the biblical story.

  • In the Torah, human trafficking is strictly prohibited.
  • Biblical and rabbinic law demand care for the vulnerable as well as just compensation and fair treatment for workers.
  • The Sabbath affords rest for all, and the Sabbatical and Jubilee years brought liberation for slaves and debt relief for borrowers.
  • The Prophet Isaiah declared that God sent him to “proclaim freedom for the captives.”
  • In the 1800s, Rabbi David Einhorn called slavery “the greatest possible crime against God.”

Passover is a festival of freedom. Passover Project resources present Jewish values, Jewish texts and even Jewish foods with a new urgency. We don’t just remember. We don’t just experience our own passage from slavery to freedom. We watch the principles of Exodus in action. We taste the bitterness of slavery as we suffered it long ago and as it is practiced now. We can make freedom happen—physically for others and spiritually for ourselves.

If every person who attends a Seder learns a few facts about modern slavery, changes shopping habits in just a few small ways, donates a few dollars and reaches out to educate just a few additional people, we would liberate tens of thousands of human beings.

About Free the Slaves
Free the Slaves liberates slaves, helps them rebuild their lives, and transforms the social, economic and political conditions that allow slavery to persist. We support community-driven interventions in partnership with local groups that help people to sustainable freedom and dismantle a region’s system of slavery. We convince governments, international development organizations and businesses to implement key changes required for global eradication. We document and disseminate leading-edge practices to help the anti-slavery movement work more effectively. We raise awareness and promote action by opinion leaders, decision makers and the public. Free the Slaves is showing the world that ending slavery is possible.

About Rabbi Debra Orenstein
Rabbi Debra Orenstein brings the meaning and relevance of the Jewish tradition to audiences across North America as a guest speaker and scholar-in-residence. For 20 years, she was an instructor at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, where she taught in the rabbinical, graduate school, undergraduate, conversion, Elderhostel and continuing education programs. She was a senior fellow of the Wilstein Institute of Jewish Policy Studies and spiritual leader of Makom Ohr Shalom synagogue. In 2010, she returned to her home state of New Jersey and became spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Israel in Emerson, while continuing her writing and public speaking. Her passion is connecting Judaism and spirituality to our everyday lives and ultimate concerns. The focus of her social action is ending slavery in our lifetimes.