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Food Justice at Your Seder Table

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The Passover seder is Jewish drama. Over the evening, a tale of slavery and liberation, despair and hope, narrow straits and open possibilities unfolds. We experience this drama through food. We lift high the matzah, the bread of affliction, for all to see; we taste the painful maror to remind us of embittered lives and oppressive work; we drink four cups of redemptive wine. Food brings these experiences to life. Through eating, we bring these symbols into our bodies.

The Jewish people have retold this drama every year for literally thousands of years; but each year is different. In every generation we continue the work of the Exodus, continuing to fight for freedom and justice in the world. This year, many Jewish groups are adding a chapter to the seder's never-ending story of oppression and freedom: food justice.

Uri L'Tzedek, in partnership with Hazon and the Bronfman Alumni Venture Fund, just released their first Food and Justice Hagaddah Supplement, featuring 26 essays, insights and action to unite food, social justice and ethical consumption.

Here are just a few of the highlights from the contributors to the supplement:

  • Rachel Berger (Kadesh) tackles the contradiction between the celebratory wine of redemption and those who labor for low wages under difficult conditions to produce that wine.
  • In the first of three pieces on Ha Lachma Anya, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg explores how matzah and maror remind us not to overlook what God intended to be our sacred mission in this world and not to become too complacent in our current celebratory well-being to forget the stranger, the poor and the orphan.
  • In "Reflections on Urchatz," Rabbi Josh Feigelson urges us to move beyond the ritual aspects of kashrut to consider all aspects of ethical food consumption. Merle Feld (Maggid) artfully picks up the same theme of different approaches to ethical consumption in her re-reading of the "Four Sons at the Seder Table."
  • Nigel Savage, founder of Hazon, explains that the seder seudah serves as the quintessential example of any seudah -- the halakhically-mandated meal -- and all that that entails in terms of consciousness, restraint and sharing with others.
  • Rabbi Ari Weiss (Nirtzah) offers a moral future based on justice as love, which combats the deep pessimism displayed in Chad Gadya.

In fighting for change, we face many Egypts: global food prices are spiraling, the environment is degrading, hunger and obesity are rising, and the workers who produce our food are facing lower wages and more difficult conditions. This Passover, as we say raise our matzo and say: "ha lachma anya -- this is the bread of affliction," we are called to remember these and the many other afflictions that face our food system.

Let us also remember that matzo is not just about suffering. "Ha lachma anya" also means this is the bread of answers. The story of Passover is that from the darkest depths comes redemption. From suffering comes healing. From slavery comes freedom. From questions come answers. May we all use this time of Passover to make these transformations, big or small, in our food system, our communities and our selves. Happy Pesach!

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