OLAM Seder Companion

Global Reflections & Responsibility

OLAM has compiled a Seder Companion to bring a global perspective to your Passover celebration. We have provided a framing question for each part of the Seder, accompanied by reflections from some of OLAM’s 50+ partner organizations and individual members. We hope they will spark conversations and compel you to think and act with global responsibility. 

Although it is only natural during this time of social distancing and isolation to focus inwards, it is now, more than ever, that we should show compassion for vulnerable communities around the world, as they grapple with limited resources and access to healthcare in the face of an unprecedented pandemic. 

Click here to download a PDF of this companion.

Candle Lighting (Hadlakat Neirot)

We ignite the flames on our candles to bring light into our homes and mark the beginning of Passover. How do you bring light into darkness?

“It falls to me to light the festival candles in our house. As I strike the match, I often find myself thinking about the older people across Eastern Europe whom World Jewish Relief supports. Despite their frailty and poverty, they still display their Shabbat candlesticks or Hanukiahs in pride of place. When we step into their homes, their faces light up with the knowledge that people in another part of the world care about and are thinking of them. Our Passover candles bring light to our own homes, but through our actions we can reach the most vulnerable people around the world and also bring light to their darkness.” Paul Anticoni, Chief Executive, World Jewish Relief

“During this time of year, when we recall breaking the bonds of slavery, we at Innovation: Africa believe in helping a continent break the cycle of their own ‘slavery,’ otherwise known as ‘poverty’ – a life without access to energy. In Africa today are 620 million people living in darkness and 450 million people without access to clean water. All because energy does not exist. No energy to light classrooms, power refrigerators in clinics to store vaccines, electrify maternity wards for women to deliver in proper conditions, and pump clean water. Yet, Innovation: Africa has been on a mission to carry out a story of transformation across Africa by truly performing G-d’s work. A story of being a ‘light unto the nations’ (Isaiah 42:6) for the most vulnerable communities living in rural African villages by providing access to life’s most basic needs: light, water, food, healthcare and education, all in the name of Israel.” Sivan Ya’ari, Founder and CEO, Innovation: Africa

Blessing over the Wine (Kiddush)

Our tradition teaches that even the person who has no means needs to be provided with four cups of wine for Passover.  How is your organization bringing necessary services to vulnerable populations around the world? 

“We drink wine and recite the Kiddush to sanctify the meal, to turn something seemingly mundane – eating – into something holy. What actually makes our action holy, however, is not the wine or the recitation, but rather the elevation of our awareness. It is a transformation in our understanding that the physical human life that we take for granted is a gift and a privilege, and that elements of daily survival are a function of human beings receiving care and sustenance. There is nothing holier than human beings enabling one another to live with joyful, plentiful sustenance. In that sense, the work we do among vulnerable populations in Indian slums is inherently sacred. It elevates seemingly mundane activities into acts of human connection, compassion, and care. We see holy acts every day: women providing nutritious meals for children; medical professionals providing healthcare to the sick; contaminated water transformed into safe drinking water. This is the ultimate way to sanctify life.” Jacob Sztokman, Founding Director, Gabriel Project Mumbai

Washing the Hands (Urchatz)

This hand washing acts as a spiritual cleanse shortly before we immerse ourselves in the retelling of the Exodus from Egypt. What would you like to cleanse in the world?

“The act of washing hands is something that seems trivial though is quite hard for most of the world. For me, it always symbolizes the vast gap between populations in the world and the role, big or small, that we each play in bridging this gap. I always ask myself with reverence and fear whether what we do has a positive impact, and whether this is the most effective way to do good. This question always stays somewhat open and unanswered. We collect as many clues as we can on the outcomes: Did we reduce the prevalence of diseases? Did we reach the marginalized? Did we help communities, but let them have the driving seat? There is something humbling in the realization that the key to a better future is in the hands of the individual or community we are walking hand in hand with, and that we are there to avail some tools, resources, and support.” Michal Bruck, CEO, NALA- NTD Advocacy, Learning and Action

Eating a Green Vegetable (Karpas)

When we dip the Karpas into the salt water, we remember the tears of the Israelites who suffered under the injustice of slavery. Which injustice in the world most compels you to act?

“As we dip the Karpas into salt water at our Seders, we think of the world’s 70 million displaced people. Refugees and asylum seekers risk and sometimes lose their lives in pursuit of safety and liberty, often fleeing violence and persecution on unsafe and unforgiving waters. While the salty waters remind us of our own ancestors’ journey to freedom and the fact that so many others continue to make that journey today, the green parsley reminds us that redemption can come. May that glimmer of hope compel us to stand in solidarity with all those who yearn to be free.” Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, Rabbi-in-Residence, HIAS

Breaking the Matzah (Yachatz)

As we rejoice in our redemption from Egypt, we anchor ourselves in humility and acknowledge the brokenness of our world. What brokenness are you trying to repair in the world?

“‘Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9).’ On Passover, Jews relive their experience of having been oppressed strangers in Egypt. As such, we are obliged to care for the strangers of the world – of which the largest percent are now displaced Syrians. They are among the most vulnerable of the earth – not only because of the geopolitics that have left them to languish – but now also to the plague of the day, coronavirus. The Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees is devoted to providing aid to, advocating for, and countering the bias against Syrian war victims.” Dr. Georgette Bennett, Founder, Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees

The Telling of the Passover Story (Maggid)

The story of Passover traces the journey of the Israelites from slavery to liberation. All over the world, communities are embarking on their own journey from oppression to freedom. What are stories of resilience that bring you hope?

“‘Until we are all free, none of us is free.’ These powerful words were stated by Emma Lazarus, applied from a life of comparative privilege toward those much less well-off and articulated specifically in her ode to new immigrants. This is a lesson we must learn and relearn for our times. I draw power and possibility from our Jewish narrative and our searches for freedom, but also from groups I work with throughout the world whose fights for freedom personify the resilience of the human spirit. A community in Honduras defending its land and water from incursions by the multi-national hydro-power conglomerate that tried to steal their river. Grassroots battles by farmers in El Salvador that led their national government to ban mineral mining that was literally uprooting the soil on their tiny farming plots. Determined and successful court actions in Uganda against imposition of the death penalty on known homosexuals. African refugees walking across the Sinai desert hoping to find freedom in Israel. Brave efforts that must remind us that we are definitely not yet free.” Ruth Messinger, Global Ambassador, American Jewish World Service

Washing the hands (Rachtzah)

With this hand washing, we recite a blessing. In the current uncertainty, what blessing do you have for the world?

As COVID-19 spreads around the world in no time, there is an understanding how much we are all connected to each other and part of a larger community. Nina Simone says ‘I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: No fear.’ The blessing I have is to remember that our strength, especially during a crisis, is to shake off all systems of fear and to have the ability to build a system of solidarity, and support the most vulnerable communities. One that will spread humanity and hope!” Yalee Azani, Alunni & Internship Advisor, Glocal International Development

Reciting the blessing over Matzah (Motzei Matzah)

We eat matzah as a symbol of the urgency of redemption as the Israelites did not have time to wait for their bread to rise. What are some immediate things you can do to bring vulnerable people around the world to redemption?

“We are currently experiencing an interesting paradox in light of COVID-19. On the one hand, we are aware of our interconnectedness as we witness the entire world grapple with a common threat. On the other hand, we are hyper-aware of our immediate communities and local needs. In a time of this dichotomy, I urge us all to think and act both locally and globally. The world’s issues may seem daunting, but here are immediate ways to contribute: Donate to organizations working with global communities; educate yourself through articles, podcasts, and other publications; advocate by raising your voice on issues that matter to you or by calling upon your government to support global causes; volunteer in person or online. If we all pick one action item, through our collective power, we may just see freedom and justice for all.” Amy Weiss, Director of Jewish Communal Engagement & Learning, OLAM

Eating the bitter herb (Maror )

We eat maror to remember the bitterness of oppression. The issues the world faces are vast and many disproportionately affect the developing world. What can we do to create a more equitable world?

“On the psychological and spiritual level, we need to realize how deeply interconnected we are – basically, we are all one. On the economic and political level we need, with an iron will, to create a new normal, in which each human being has good food, clean water, shelter, health care and education, and in which we care for planet earth rather than ravishing it. Just as slavery — at least in its most overt form — was ended, so too poverty.” Rabbi Micha Odenheimer, Founding Director, Tevel B’Tzedek

Eating the bitter herb and matzah together (Korach)

“This was the custom of Hillel during the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem: to take the Passover lamb, Matzah, and Maror and eat them together.” The Passover lamb represents liberation; Matzah is both the bread of affliction and liberation; Maror represents our suffering as slaves in Egypt. The sandwich combines the bitterness of suffering and the hope of freedom. In the time of COVID-19, how do you balance hope and despair?

“I still insist on opening the door for Elijah. Although children are usually the ones to undertake this responsibility, I am always the first to volunteer. I love the feeling of staring into the darkness and inviting hope — personified as Elijah — inside. For most of Jewish history, opening the door on Seder night was an act of courage and faith. The outside world was unsafe. For the very first time, I feel the same. Yet, these things give me hope: heroic healthcare workers, refugees helping vulnerable citizens in their host countries (“we know what is a medical system being down and we don’t want to reach that”), my children. This year we are slaves, next year may we be free.” Dyonna Ginsburg, Executive Director, OLAM

Festive Meal (Shulach Orach)

We join together at the table to rejoice in our freedom, while not forgetting the sacrifices our ancestors made for us to experience this freedom. What in our history inspires you to bring freedom to others?

“I sometimes think about the fact that the survival and existence of Jews has been more or less precarious throughout history. We’ve been persecuted constantly, vilified and hunted, systematically murdered, and still, to this day, a constant target of hate. Although Jews may be relatively safe today, we are still very much reminded of this constant reality, passed down, in part, through our own traditions. I think this is what compels us to look out for others who are in precarious positions. I feel right at home working with and advocating on behalf of those who, more than anything, seek a safe place to live in freedom.” Andrew Carmona, Sr. Program Manager, Social Impact

Eating the Afikomen (Tsafun)

It is a custom to hide the Afikomen and for the children to find it before consuming it for dessert. What issues in our global community do you feel are hidden from the world?

“Today, probably more than any other period of my generation’s lifetime, we understand what it means to not have basic freedom to do all the things we take for granted such as going to the beach, eating at a restaurant or meeting our friends and loved ones. It’s not an easy experience but it’s a very powerful lesson that will help each of us understand even a little bit what our ancestors in Egypt or in other dark times of history went through. At IsraAID, we work with many refugees who are victims of conflict. More than ever, this Passover, we are committed to support them in the long run, to achieve the freedom they deserve.” Yotam Polizer, CEO, IsraAID

Grace After Meals (Bareich)

The blessing after the meal expresses gratitude and recognition of the food that sustains us. How do you help vulnerable communities sustain themselves?

“At CADENA, we help communities become resilient to the emergency that they are facing. We not only aid and distribute essential items they might need, we also focus on the importance of education and learning and how they can become resilient and help themselves in the future and in times of crises. In order to be resilient, one should be flexible and be able to adapt to change. We help communities prepare themselves and navigate that change so that they can come out stronger on the other side.” Erika Glanz, Director of International Emergencies and Operations, CADENA

Celebratory Psalms (Hallel)

Hallel is a compilation of psalms, expressing joy and praise. We recite the full Hallel on the first night/day of Passover and a shortened version on the remaining days. The shortened version reminds us that in the midst of our celebration, we need to mourn the suffering that the Egyptians experienced to bring about our salvation. How do we acknowledge the suffering of others?

“We have a humanitarian and Jewish responsibility to acknowledge the suffering of others, in our own communities and globally. Not only are we taught to acknowledge suffering, but also to take action. “It is not upon you to finish the work, but you are not free to ignore it.” (Mishna, Ethics, 2:16). We must tell the stories of the communities we work with in a responsible way that elevates individual voices and gives communities dignity. We can acknowledge the suffering of others without reducing lives to suffering alone. Even in the most challenging circumstances, if we look closely we will discover humanity, laughter, music, and joy. Our portrayals of suffering must be coloured with the full spectrum of human experience, which is universal, instead of reducing whole communities and lives to absolute hardship and misfortune.” Annie Levy, JDC Entwine Jewish Service Corps Fellow serving Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village

Conclusion of the Seder (Nirtzah)

A poem is recited, expressing gratitude for ability to perform the Seder and our hope to perform it again next year. Our Seder may have looked differently this year in light of COVID-19, but we remain steadfast in thinking about the year to come. What do you commit to doing to make the world a better place?

“‘Next Year in Jerusalem’” is our people’s millennia-old hope for redemption. This year, I’m yearning deeply for a different future: health and safety for ourselves, our families and the world. To get there, it’s critical that we flatten the curve of infection for COVID-19 and ensure that the most vulnerable communities are not forgotten. AJWS is supporting an urgent grassroots response in 19 countries, focusing on refugees, persecuted minorities and the rural poor, all of whom will suffer profound threats to their lives and livelihoods. This year at my seder, I’ll pray: ‘Next year in a just and healthy world.’ Through our acts of compassion from this Passover to the next, let us make this dream a reality.” Robert Bank, President and CEO, American Jewish World Service