"Freedom Seder" on YouTube
From Art Waskow's Shalom Center:
We have just posted on YouTube part of the only existing film of the original Freedom Seder held on April 4, 1969, the first anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, the third night of Passover.
Doing the electronic wizardry necessary to put excerpts from the film on YouTube made it a little darker than the original. But you can clearly see and hear the readings, the comments, the questions, and the joyful responses of hundreds of people of varied racial and religious communities who gathered in a Black church in the heart of Washington DC to celebrate the Seder.
The Freedom Seder was unique: For the first time in millennia of Jewish history, the story of the liberation of ancient Israelites from slavery under Pharaoh was intertwined with the story of Black America's struggle for liberation, and the liberation of other peoples as well.
Among the leading readers that night in 1969 were:
- Rabbi Balfour Brickner, one of the strongest civil-rights and peace leaders of Reform Judaism;
- Topper Carew, then a young Black street activist and youth-oriented city planner, now a fiim and TV producer;
- Rev. Channing Phillips, the pastor of the hosting church, who had led an insurgent pro-civil-rights, antiwar movement in Washington; who was elected by the people of Washington to chair the DC delegation to the Democratic National Convention of 1968 in Chicago; and who had been nominated for President by the DC delegation after Bobby Kennedy was murdered. He was the first Black person ever nominated for President at a major-party convention;
- and Arthur Waskow --- then an activist/ scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies who had written the Freedom Seder as his first venture into the world of Jewish creativity that then became his life-path, leading him to found and direct The Shalom Center and to be ordained a rabbi. You may be startled to see Waskow with a black beard, wearing a white shirt, suit, and tie.
The Seder was organized by Jews for Urban Justice, an insurgent and provocative Jewish group led by Mike Tabor, Sharlene Krantz, and Fran Schreiberg.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Seder and to address one of the greatest dangers ever to face the human race—the danger that our global climate crisis will become a "global scorching" worse than the traditional "Ten Plagues"—The Shalom Center has initiated a New Freedom Seder for the Earth and is co-sponsoring two observances on March 29, 2009—in Washington DC and in Philadelphia. Other observances are planned around the country during the next several weeks. For more information (including a text you can use and print to create your own Seder for the Earth) click to our home page at www.shalomctr.org
One year before, the day after Dr. King was killed, several commercial sections of Washington had been burned down by crowds of Blacks infuriated by his murder. The US Army had occupied the city and imposed a curfew (enforced only on Blacks), and when Passover had arrived one week later, the uproar had stirred Arthur Waskow's imagination to connect the story of the Exodus with the city in flames.
Some activists had threatened to burn the city again if it refused to make April 4 a day of city-wide mourning for Dr. King, but the city government refused. There is a moment during the Seder, just after the reading of the ten Plagues, when the sound of fire engine sirens can be heard—the 11th plague.
The Freedom Seder was nationally published that year by Ramparts magazine and was carried live by WBAI radio in New York City. Excerpts were televised by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, whence these fewer moments.
The Freedom Seder liberated the Passover Seder itself from its hide-bound pattern, and during the forty years since, tens of thousands of Jews and others have reshaped their own Seders to address feminism, workers and immigrants rights, gay rights, Israeli-Palestinian peace, protection of the earth, and other issues of great urgency.