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A New Haggadah Marking 50 Years of Occupation

The Seder Night is a call for change. 

The traditional haggadah is a multi-layered document that tells an ancient story, but also commands us to see that story in the present tense: as if we ourselves came out of Egypt.

Illustration of Moses with the caption Dayenu

The Jubilee Haggadah issued this year by a new organization called SISO (“Save Israel. Stop the Occupation.”) seeks to inspire Israelis and Jews around the world to engage with the issue of the occupation. Founded in 2016, SISO is a partnership of Israelis and Diaspora Jews who see the 50th year of Israel’s control over the Palestinians as a wake-up call to all those who care about Israel’s future. Israel will not remain a Jewish and democratic state if it does not end the occupation.

This haggadah takes it inspiration from the Jubilee commandment in the book of Leviticus: “Sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants” (Leviticus 25:10). The present-day imperative to recognize the Palestinians’ desire for liberty is especially urgent as we mark 50 years since the 1967 Six-Day War.

The Jubilee Haggadah includes contributions from thirty authors and thinkers from throughout the Jewish world: Michael Walzer, Carol Gilligan, Leon Wieseltier, Amos Oz and many more.  In prose and verse, they offer thoughtful analysis of the existing texts and their applicability to our time. Some propose changes to the traditional rituals of the Haggadah. Israeli feminist Anat Hoffman writes, in regard to the ritual of washing each other’s hands:

The Seder Night is a call for change. We have to move out of our comfort zone, to expose ourselves without the protective envelope of our daily routines, to sense discomfort — to change. And a Seder Night marked by fifty years of rule over another people calls for an especially profound change. We cannot wash our hands clean, as if to say ‘our hands have not done and our eyes have not seen’.

Hoffman suggests that instead of washing our hands, we wash one another’s feet:

In ancient times washing the feet was a part of the ceremony of welcoming guests. It creates an immediate intimate connection between people. The feet are in direct contact with the ground of reality. Contact with the ground is contact with the truth. Whoever wants change must move forward with confident and stable feet. We lead with our feet.

Former Speaker of the Knesset and Chair of the Jewish Agency Avrum Burg suggests we replace “Pour out your wrath upon the nations” with an alternative attributed to Rashi’s grandson: “Pour out Your love upon the nations that know you, and upon the kingdoms that invoke Your name, because of the kindnesses they do to the seed of Jacob and because they defend Your people Israel from those who would consume them.”

Illustration of people leaving EgyptThe original illustrations by Irit Hemmo in the Jubilee Haggadah invite another layer of analysis. Is that a depiction of Israelites in ancient Egypt or of Palestinians? Or perhaps they’re Jewish pioneers in pre-State Palestine. Many of the illustrations in the new Jubilee Haggadah are ambiguous by design and can be seen on multiple levels. The iconic image of the four paratroopers at the Western Wall on the last day of the Six-Day War accompanies the text of the Four Children. Who among them is the wise child? Who the wicked and the simple?

“In the beginning, our ancestors worshipped idols” begins the Magid section. The accompanying illustration in the Jubilee Haggadah shows a ship of Jewish immigrants to Palestine in 1947. This is one place to begin the story of the Jewish people’s modern-day redemption and the founding of the State of Israel. Yet as we see in the Haggadah, our story has many beginnings. As J. J. Goldberg writes in the Jubilee Haggadah:

The traditional Haggadah, the narration of the Passover story, has three separate beginnings, each with a different meaning: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt”; “At first our ancestors were idol-worshippers”; and “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt.” These remind us of the multiple forms of liberation embodied in the Exodus: Liberation from slavery and oppression; from ignorance and superstition; and from homelessness and helplessness. And what are we to make of all this? The narration concludes: “In every generation, each of us is obliged to see ourselves as if we had personally left Egypt.” These tales are not history lessons but a guidebook for today.

SISO is encouraging use of this haggadah in different ways—from pre-Passover events to public seders to use in seders in private homes. We are also encouraging people to upload short video clips as they read a passage from the Jubilee Haggadah. An interactive map of Jewish communities around the world will show the breadth of this global engagement.

The Israeli political situation is complicated and painful for many of us. The Jubilee Haggadah does not provide a history or political analysis, nor does it offer clear answers. Instead it offers an invitation to engage in a discussion: how is the Jewish tradition and Passover specifically relevant to the current political reality? As we read every year in the haggadah: and whoever adds more detail to the story is to be praised!

The Jubilee Haggadah can be purchased or downloaded at http://nif.org/sisohaggadah. For more information on SISO and to take part in our Passover activities: info@siso.org.il


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