A night different from all other nights

‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’ the youngest child asks during the Seder meal.  As a night of remembrance for Jewish families, this meal marks the first night of the Passover – or Pesach – a Jewish festival that commemorates the biblical Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. 

In Egypt the Israelites were slaves, living under a Pharaoh who would not let them leave. In this festival of commemoration, the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) saw an incredible opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of the millions of people across the world who are trapped in slavery today. 

On the 27th March, a few weeks before the official start of Passover, the first ever Freedom Seder was launched. It built upon learning from Freedom Sunday, a global day of Christian prayer and action on human trafficking, which CCJ have been adapting for Jewish communities in the UK since 2015. 

The evening was held at the offices of Clifford Chance and led skilfully by Maureen Kendler, lead tutor at the London School of Jewish Studies. She brought the interfaith audience through an abridged version of the Seder, which can sometimes last until the early hours of the morning!

Storytelling has a big role to play in the Seder, for example as families remember the ten plagues of Egypt. CCJ used this as an opportunity to talk about ten different kinds of modern slavery, giving a short introduction to each kind. Each plague is remembered by spilling a drop of wine onto your plate, to symbolise the suffering that each plague brought. The same was done for each kind of modern slavery, as the suffering of the victims was remembered. 

It is also traditional to drink four symbolic cups of wine – or grape juice – during the course of a Seder. For the Freedom Seder, each cup was supplemented with the story of a victim of modern slavery. They were read by different members of the group, emphasising the collaborative nature of the evening, which is normally held at home.

Father Mark Odion of The Catholic Church talking about human trafficking in his home country, Nigeria

Father Mark Odion of The Catholic Church talking about human trafficking in his home country, Nigeria

Each participant at the Freedom Seder was given a Haggadah companion to take away. The Haggadah is a book which includes everything that needs to be read at the Seder, as well as instructions for how to perform some of the rituals and the blessings to be made over the food and wine. Some are decorated elaborately and feature commentaries from Rabbis or other teachers about Passover and some of the Seder stories. 

A Haggadah companion, like the one produced by CCJ, can be used alongside a traditional Haggadah. The CCJ Haggadah companion highlights particular elements of the Seder that will prompt discussion on modern slavery and how it can be prevented. It also includes personal stories of modern slavery and reflections from religious and community leaders.

You can get your own copy of the Haggadah companion from CCJ’s website. If you would like to hold your own Freedom Seder, contact CCJ to find out how.