What You Can Do to Make Passover About Slavery Past and Present

04/20/2016 12:51 pm ET Updated Apr 21, 2017

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 has developed a creative solution. Working with a distinguished group of rabbis and Jewish educators, we're distributing 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 Jews and their non-Jewish Seder guests can take -- individually and collectively -- to free slaves now.

These "Passover Project" materials are free and available online here.

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.

"Slavery is not historical. It is happening now. And every person who sits down to a Seder can help end it," says Passover Project Founder, Rabbi Debra Orenstein of Congregation B'nai Israel in Emerson, New Jersey. "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?"

"Jews are commanded to 'Tell your children' so that the story of the liberation from slavery is never forgotten," says Free the Slaves Executive Director Maurice Middleberg. "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 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. More than 20 Jewish institutions have already signed up as Passover Project Partners.

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.

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.