By Talia Stein
Each year on Passover, Jewish people retell the story of the Israelites being slaves in Egypt and their journey out of slavery to freedom. Passover is holiday focused around remembering struggles of the past and connecting them to our current lives. There are several traditions that are incorporated into the Passover Seder. Among them are eating matzah (the bread of affliction), eating bitter herbs, and dipping vegetables in salt water (the salt water representing tears). These traditions are meant to remind us of the pain and suffering experienced by the Israelites in slavery. There are also rituals incorporated to “experience” the freedom after the exodus, such as drinking wine while leaning on comfortable pillows.
Because of this theme of leaving slavery toward freedom, Passover Seders are often used as a place to connect various social justice issues to the holiday of Passover. Specifically, a Seder about workers rights may tell the story of exploited workers’ journey to achieving justice on the job. A Labor Seder focused on workers rights not only educates participants about relevant and current workers rights struggles, but also fulfills this idea of remembering the story of the Israelites in Egypt and connecting it to the present. A Labor Seder has the ability to bring together the Jewish, progressive, and labor communities while exploring different worker struggles.
This year, Arise Chicago, AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, and Moishe House Chicago put together a Labor Seder with the help of the Jewish Labor Committee and Rabbi Brant Rosen from the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation. At the Seder, people from all over Chicago heard from workers about their experiences and struggles with their jobs, as well as the campaigns going on in Chicago to support them. For instance, we heard from a Hyatt worker about the unjust working conditions and unfair treatment of co-workers. A janitor talked about the struggle she and her fellow workers faced in trying to win a fair new contract. In addition, we connected traditional elements of the Passover Seder to current workers rights issues. For example, rather than reciting the traditional Four Questions, which ask why the Seder night is different from all other nights (the Four Questions are: Why do we eat matzah and not bread; why do we eat the bitter herbs; why do we dip two items in tonight; and why do we eat reclining or leaning slightly to the side), we discussed four questions relating to domestic workers. Specifically, we asked and answered why domestic workers need a bill of rights; what are some of the protections that a domestic workers bill of rights would provide; what does Passover have to do with domestic workers; and what can each of us do to support the domestic workers bill of rights. Later, Arise lifted up the story of the 136 Rolf’s Patisserie workers who lost their jobs without warning last December. We talked about how the workers stayed united to fight for the payment of their final paychecks, which had bounced—and how they won. All present were asked for their support as the workers continue their struggle to receive the 60 days pay owed to them under the WARN Act.
Overall, the evening was full of learning, singing, discussing and eating. People left inspired to learn more about various workers rights issues and interested in taking action to stop current workplace injustice and prevent future injustices. Find photos of this year’s Labor Seder below.
Talia is a Religious Organizer at Arise Chicago through AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps