Freedom Seder celebrates immigrants, diversity

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Immigration – How American Policies Make People Illegal – was the theme of JCA’s annual Freedom Seder on March 31 at Temple Israel in Minneapolis. Jewish Community Action (JCA) is extraordinarily active in its campaign for permanent legal status of Liberians and other immigrants. The organization supports passage of legislation H.R. 1941 to extend permanent resident status to Liberians currently in the United States under temporary status.

The JCA is a nonprofit organization that is committed to both pursuing justice and building relationships.

Upcoming JCA events:
Showing of Liberia: America’s Stepchild at the Minneapolis Urban League, April 29 at 6 – 8 pm.
The JCA Immigrant Rights Leadership Team’s next meeting is Wednesday, April 16 at 7 pm.
For more information about JCA events, please contact Vic at 651-632-2184, or vic@jewishcommunityaction.org

A Seder is a ritual feast celebrating the Jewish Passover, and a Freedom Seder is one that incorporates the theme of freedom for all people. Approximately two hundred people gathered to celebrate not just the Seder, but also its message of liberation and the spirit of community.

As described in the Haggadah (program book), “Passover celebrates the redemption of the Jews from enslavement in Egypt. The word Seder literally means ‘order.’ The rituals of the Seder follow a set order, but within this order there is much room for additions, interpretations, and varying traditions.” The purpose of the Seder is to commemorate and celebrate an event that took place thirty-five centuries ago. Jewish people, as well as other freedom-seeking people in nations all over the world, have identified with and have been inspired by the story of Passover.

This year’s Seder recognized the ethnic and cultural diversity of Minnesotans today and the struggles and oppression many encountered in becoming Americans. The traditional blessing of the matzoh – unleavened bread – was done in several languages. Community members shared their stories with the group as to the many reasons why their families chose to emigrate to the U.S. – from political refugee to natural crises to wanting a better life for themselves and their children.

Guests were encouraged by the rabbi to explore their common histories about the impact of American policies on their immigrant experience, hear each other’s stories, and learn about how they can support immigrant rights. In addition, guests were invited to write the date that their family first arrived in the U.S. and post it on the timeline chart in the back of the room that highlighted the markers in history of immigration of the U.S. from 1790 to today.

The JCA prepared letters that guests could sign and send to their senator. In the letter, JCA writes, “More than 200,000 Liberians fled their homeland in West Africa to escape one of the bloodiest civil conflicts in recent history. An estimated 20,000 Liberians now make Minnesota their home. Liberian refugees are valued members of Minnesota communities, but many Liberians living lawfully in Minnesota and across the United States are in danger of being deported to Liberia when their temporary status, ‘deferred enforced departure,’ ends.

“Liberians, who have been in the U.S. under temporary protection since the outbreak of civil war in 1991, were granted an additional 18 months of temporary status, but such status will expire on March 21, 2009. A cloud of uncertainty hangs over the Liberian community and other immigrant communities who have not yet been granted permanent resident in the United States.”

The final group recitation of the Seder was, “In reliving the Passover story, we have recommitted ourselves to freedom, and next year may we look back on this year, and view with pride the footsteps of the journey we have traveled together.”

The Seder closed with the singing of freedom crusade favorites, “If I Had a Hammer,” “The Times They Are A-Changing,” “Avadim-Hayinu,” “Oh Freedom” and lastly, “We Shall Overcome.”

The atmosphere was reverent. The people gathered were warm, welcoming and joyful. The precocious ninth grade young man at my table was my teacher; he carefully explained each step of the Seder and answered all my questions. The rabbi was efficient and instructional. The rituals, food and music were old and new. We were of different faith and different heritage. Our stories were unique, yet similar. For just over two hours, we were all in the same boat –immigrants arriving on the shores of the United States of America.

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