At the Passover seder, Jews all over the world celebrate their freedom from Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.
At Temple Israel’s Freedom Seder on March 28, more than 100 women expressed wishes that all people enjoy freedom. Using a Haggadah for Justice compiled by Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny, participants focused on worldwide social justice for all.
This was the second Freedom Seder organized by Temple Israel’s Sisterhood. Last year, they invited women from Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit. This year, in addition to the Hartford women, Sisterhood member Gail Katz invited some Muslim women active in interfaith efforts in Metro Detroit. A representative of Alternatives for Girls, a Detroit nonprofit, also attended.
Several guests spoke about their personal struggles for freedom from oppression.
Parwin Anwar of Sterling Heights, a member of the Islamic Organization of North America, described her escape from Russian-occupied Afghanistan to Pakistan more than 20 years ago. Six months pregnant, she, with her husband and two small children, joined a group of 18 who walked 150 miles to safety over mountains. Her third child was born after they arrived in Pakistan. It was eight months before her family could come to the U.S., even though her father and brother had been living here for years.
The Rev. Cecilia Holliday, social pastor at Hartford Memorial, talked about her struggles to overcome racial prejudice. She described an elementary school teacher who would always give her lower grades than her white friend, even when her work was better. One day, she and her friend switched papers and, when the friend again got a higher grade, they told the teacher what they had done.
In high school, Holliday had to cope with a teacher who called her and her black classmates “pickaninnies.” The teacher was eventually disciplined.
“I got a B in that class when I earned an A, but I felt OK because I had stood up for myself,” Holliday said. “I had to let the world know that bigots could not control my mind. God made us in his image. By the grace of God, I am what I am.”
Kaluzny’s Haggadah reimagined several parts of the traditional seder to focus on social justice. In describing matzah as the “bread of affliction,” the Haggadah noted that every day, 25,000 people worldwide die from hunger and malnutrition.
The Four Children, traditionally described as wise, defiant, simple and unable to ask, were updated as the Activist child, who asks how to follow God’s command to pursue justice; the Skeptical child, who asks how one can solve problems of such enormity; the Indifferent child who says it’s not her responsibility; and the Uninformed child who does not know how to ask.
Guests enjoyed a catered meal augmented by Passover kugels, casseroles and desserts prepared by Sisterhood members.
After dinner, they made cards and packed gift bags with donated socks, cosmetics and hair accessories for clients at Alternatives for Girls, an agency on the west side of Detroit that provides shelter and support services for girls and young women ages 15-21. Deena Policicchio, director of outreach and education services, thanked the women for their support.
Sue Birndorf, a psychologist who lives in Detroit, said the Haggadah used at the Freedom Seder awakened her to the idea that we need to be more open to other people.
“I realized it’s fear [of people unlike ourselves] that drives us apart,” she said. “When I sit next to an amazing woman and hear her speak, my fears just fly away.”
Barbara Schultz of Farming-ton Hills also enjoyed meeting diverse women. “We learned about our likenesses and celebrated our differences,” she said. “I’m proud that Temple Israel did such a program.”
The Freedom Seder committee included Wendy Kohlenberg, Temple Israel Sisterhood president; Rabbis Ariana Gordon, Marla Hornsten, Jennifer Kaluzny and Jen Lader; Laila Cohen, Gail Katz, Lauren Marcus Johnson, Linda Mickelson, Diane Okun, Randi Sakwa, Marilyn Schalberg and Carolyn Wiener.
Barbara Lewis Contributing Writer