Yakhatz, Afikomen and a Re-Imagined Tashlikh: Toward Economic Justice in the Time of COVID-19

Background: This ritual connecting yakhatz to tashlikh thereby invites the experience and intentions of this moment to find expression in actions at a later moment, was inspired by the tradition of saving the lulav from Sukkot to use as a broom to help sweep out hametz from our home the following Passover.


“God only provides the raw materials. It is we who must plant, tend, harvest and bake in order to create bread. Thus we learn that we are partners in the work of creation.”

(Rabbi Richard Hirsch, A Night of Questions: A Passover Haggadah)

Reading 1:

In these difficult times, millions of courageous people across the globe are doing more than their part to tend to our fragile world, and keep it from breaking apart at its seams. Health care aids, first responders, grocery store employees and deliverers, warehouse distribution workers, postal workers, farmer workers, truck drivers, taxi drivers, childcare-givers, sanitation workers, gas station attendants, and countless others continue to do what they’ve always done. But now many of them are doing so at considerable risk to their health and wellbeing. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude. 

Reading 2:

Their stories of strength and struggle are bringing into sharp focus a host of entrenched social and economic issues – cracks in the wholeness of our world – we all too often choose to leave unexamined. Always palpable to those most negatively affected by them, the fissures in our social fabric and the fault-lines in our economy – and the devastating consequences of both – are announcing themselves in headlines and in our homes in ways arresting and undeniable. 

Reading 3:

The pandemic highlights the fact that much of the work we are now deeming “essential” has been demeaned and devalued, undercompensated and under-supported throughout history. And evidence is mounting that the consequences of a pandemic are played out in grossly disproportionately ways on those who do that work.


Let’s take some time to read and reflect on (all or some of) these excerpts from articles in the NY Times, the Atlantic and ProPublica.


Reading 4:

Location Data Says It All: Staying at Home During Coronavirus Is a Luxury

By Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Denise Lu and Gabriel J.X. Dance, April 3, 2020

It has been about two weeks since the Illinois governor ordered residents to stay at home, but nothing has changed about Adarra Benjamin’s responsibilities. She gets on a bus nearly every morning in Chicago, traveling 20 miles round trip some days to cook, clean and shop for her clients, who are older or have health problems that make such tasks difficult.

Ms. Benjamin knows the dangers, but she needs her job, which pays about $13 an hour. She also cannot imagine leaving her clients to fend for themselves. “They’ve become my family,” she said.

In cities across America, many lower-income workers continue to move around, while those who make more money are staying home and limiting their exposure to the coronavirus, according to smartphone location data analyzed by The New York Times.


Reading 5:

As Coronavirus Deepens Inequality, Inequality Worsens Its Spread

By Max Fisher and Emma Bubola

Published March 15, 2020; Updated March 16, 2020

In societies where the virus hits, it is deepening the consequences of inequality, pushing many of the burdens onto the losers of today’s polarized economies and labor markets….

Two major risk factors are thought to make the coronavirus deadlier for those who catch it: old age and pre-existing health conditions….But a body of research points to a third: low socioeconomic status….

Research suggests that those in lower economic strata are likelier to catch the disease. They are also likelier to die from it.  And, even for those who remain healthy, they are likelier to suffer loss of income or health care as a result of quarantines and other measures, potentially on a sweeping scale. 

Even for those well above the poverty line, studies find that low income relative to the rest of society is associated with higher rates of chronic health conditions [one of the main drivers of fatalities from covid-19].


Reading 6:

Why Women May Face a Greater Risk of Catching Coronavirus

By Alisha Haridasani Gupta, March 12, 2020

Around the world, women make up a majority of health care workers, almost 70 percent according to some estimates, and most of them occupy nursing roles — on the front lines of efforts to combat and contain outbreaks of disease. In China’s Hubei Province, where the current coronavirus outbreak originated, about 90 percent of health care workers are women. In the U.S., that number is around 78 percent….

Nurses’ levels of exposure are “higher than doctors’,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist, because “they’re much more involved in intimate care of patients. They’re the ones drawing blood, they’re the ones collecting specimens.” That situation is also found in nursing homes, which have been the epicenter of infections in Washington State.

Economically speaking, outbreaks could have a disproportionately negative impact on women, who make up a large chunk of part-time and informal workers around the world. Those kinds of jobs are also usually the first to get sliced in periods of economic uncertainty. And during outbreaks, when women have to give up work and income to stay home, they often find it harder to spring back after the crisis…


Reading 7:

Why Don’t We Know Who the Coronavirus Victims Are?

Ibram X. Kendi, Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University

[Still, a recent study in Illinois found,] a pandemic within the pandemic: African Americans are significantly overrepresented in infection rates…, while whites and Latinos are significantly underrepresented. African Americans make up 14.6 percent of the state population, but 28 percent of confirmed cases of the coronavirus. White people comprise 76.9 percent of the Illinois population, and 39 percent of the confirmed cases. Latinos comprise 17.4 percent of the state population, and 7 percent of the cases…. 

What we are seeing in Illinois could be happening nationwide—we just don’t know… 

[W]ithout racial data, we can’t see whether there are disparities between the races in coronavirus testing, infection, and death rates….Without racial data, we can’t see racism, and racism becomes like asymptomatic carriers—spreading the virus, and no one knows it.


Reading 8:

Early Data Shows African Americans Have Contracted and Died of Coronavirus at an Alarming Rate

by Akilah Johnson and Talia Buford, April 3, 2020

No, the coronavirus is not an “equalizer.” Black people are being infected and dying at higher rates…

….[Milwakee County’s] online dashboard of coronavirus cases keeps up-to-date information on the racial breakdown of those who have tested positive.

As of Thursday morning, 19 people had died of illness related to COVID-19 in Milwaukee County. All but four were black, according to the county medical examiner’s office. Records show that at least 11 of the deceased had diabetes, eight had hypertension and 15 had a mixture of chronic health conditions that included heart and lung disease.

Because of discrimination and generational income inequality, black households in the county earned only 50% as much as white ones in 2018, according to census statistics. Black people are far less likely to own homes than white people in Milwaukee and far more likely to rent, putting black renters at the mercy of landlords who can kick them out if they can’t pay during an economic crisis, at the same time as people are being told to stay home. And when it comes to health insurance, black people are more likely to be uninsured than their white counterparts.

African Americans have gravitated to jobs in sectors viewed as reliable paths to the middle class — health care, transportation, government, food supply — which are now deemed “essential,” rendering them unable to stay home. In places like New York City, the virus’ epicenter, black people are among the only ones still riding the subway.

“And let’s be clear, this is not because people want to live in those conditions,” said Gordon Francis Goodwin, who works for Government Alliance on Race and Equity, a national racial equity organization that worked with Milwaukee on its health and equity framework. “This is a matter of taking a look at how our history kept people from actually being fully included.”

Five congressional Democrats wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, whose department encompasses the CDC, last week demanding the federal government collect and release the breakdown of coronavirus cases by race and ethnicity.

Without demographic data, the members of Congress wrote, health officials and lawmakers won’t be able to address inequities in health outcomes and testing that may emerge….



Reading 9:

Experts also remind us that all too often disease and disaster can deepen socioeconomic divides, which can then lead to more poverty and more disease. The tendency for a mutually-reinforcing cycle to take hold is all too common, and, according to Nicole A. Errett, a public health expert who co-directs a center on extreme event resilience at the University of Washington “pre-existing social vulnerabilities often get worse following a disaster.”



We now embed our awareness of these issues in a new addition to the ritual of Yakhatz – Breaking of the Matzah.

Reading 10:

Matzah, called “lekhem oni,” is the symbol of both our sustenance and our “oni” suffering. Yakhatz involves breaking the “lekhem oni” and hiding away a piece as the afikomen. Tonight, we add an addition yakhatz ritual to our seder that honors those who are sustaining our society, even as they stand to suffer disproportionately from society’s ills. This ritual also marks our resolve to break the next cycle of economic and social inequities before it begins. 

Leader lifts matzah tray and says:

As we lift this plate of matzah, let us remember that we all rise and fall together. Tonight, we elevate undervalued work and honor the admirable people performing it.  May the work of their hands and hearts be blessed.  May their health and wellbeing, and the health and wellbeing of their families be strengthened and secured.

Leader returns matzah tray to table

Leader removes the bottom matzah, raises it up and says:

וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם֮ אֶת־הַמַּצּוֹת֒ כִּ֗י בְּעֶ֙צֶם֙ הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה הוֹצֵ֥אתִי אֶת־צִבְאוֹתֵיכֶ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֞ם אֶת־הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֛ה לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶ֖ם חֻקַּ֥ת עוֹלָֽם׃

You shall observe the [Feast of] Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day throughout the ages as an institution for all time.

On Passover, we remember the type of society we came from in the past, so as not to recreate it in the future. We left Egypt in order to live a Torah life, not re-create Egypt somewhere else.

Tonight, we name some of the many forms of brokenness  – the inequities, injustices, inequalities – that we have allowed to plague our world.


Each of us here is now invited to name an economic or social injustice.

Each time someone names something new, I will break off a piece of this matzah, and put it in this ziplock bag.

We do this in silence, listening to the sound of the matzah cracking. 

When the group is done, pour all the pieces of matzah in a plastic ziplock bag.

(Leader – if  contributions don’t flow, here are a few suggestions to get you started. (Note, these model that contributions can be specific or general, and they don’t have to be perfectly articulated to be worth contributing.)  Racism, absence of paid sick leave, holes in our social safety net, broken healthcare system, unequal pay for equal work, lack of childcare for all….)


We continue with a new ritual that connects Afikomen to a re-imagined Tashlikh.

Reading 11:

In a moment we’ll create and hide the afikomen. Later, we’ll look for it, and eat it, and whoever finds it will get a prize. As we turn a piece of matzah into afikomen, we symbolically transform our bread of affliction into a treat! Let’s approach our bag of broken matzah pieces with a similar intention of turning something bitter into something better, and worth searching for.

Returning to business as usual after the pandemic would meaning returning to the restrictive narrow place from which we came. Instead of looking back for inspiration, let us reach toward a future we want.


This year, we’ll save the matzah in this bag (in our freezer). We’ll take it out in the fall, at Rosh Hashanah. And then with a “strong hand and an outstretched arm” we’ll hurl these injustices away in our tashlikh ceremony. At that time we’ll revisit the injustices we’ve named tonight. We’ll again acknowledge their sinfulness, as we commit to searching for solutions that expel these injustices from our midst. 

We will do this during the tashlikh ritual of Rosh Hashanah, in the fall.

We will do this in what we pray will be better times, lest once our personal burdens are relieved we forget injustice, or what we need to do to fight it.

(Leader – Don’t forget the Afikomen! Take middle piece of matzah, break it inhalf and hide the larger piece as the afikomen.)

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