B.J. Coleman | Uptown News
Humans are natural storytellers. During Passover season, the storytelling enactment of the Seder celebrates Jewish faith and history by recounting deliverance of the children of Israel from oppression as slave workers in Egypt, after they were freed to journey to their Promised Land of Israel. Today, the Seder — which means “order” — is a simple meal, in which each course is accompanied by a teachings and songs called the Haggadah (meaning “narrative”), explaining to each new generation the path their forebears had to take for freedom.
On Friday, April 4, the Interfaith Center for Worker Justice (ICWJ) conducted an early Passover Seder, linking the history of the Jews liberated from Pharaoh’s bondage 4,000 years ago, to the journey toward equality sought by impoverished laborers and immigrants in San Diego today. The original story is told in the book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible. The two-hour event hosted approximately 75 attendees at the Kensington Community Church, with the hospitality of Reverend Darryl Kistler.
The Labor Seder commenced with a blessing of the Kaddesh, the first cup of wine, led by Rabbi Laurie Coskey, executive director of the ICWJ. She explained that in Jewish tradition, drinking wine is reserved for happy celebrations, and she further noted the justice of acknowledging the “countless set of hands” of persons all created equally in the image of God that had contributed to bringing the wine to the Seder table.
Each item on the Seder menu is symbolic. Greens dipped into salt water (Karpas) are to remind participants of spring’s hopefulness mixed with memory of tears shed in slavery. The matzah (unleavened bread) is blessed and broken, to memorialize the Israelites’ poverty and their hasty departure from Egypt, which left no time for their bread to rise.
Rather than pairing meals with traditional teachings; however, speakers addressed a present-day need for liberation.
After the matzah was blessed, Laura Hunter of Water Station, a local nonprofit, was the first speaker to tell her story. Water Station relies on volunteers and donations to set up storage containers holding jugs of water at locations across the local desert. From late March through the end of October, volunteers place and supply the stations, marked by blue and orange flags that thirsty wanderers can see from afar. Laura’s husband, Dr. John Hunter, started the group in 2000, and Water Station’s effectiveness in preventing deaths from heat and dehydration inspired similar efforts in Arizona and Texas.
Victor Diaz Huerta then related his story of struggle as an immigrant from Mexico, becoming his family’s first high school graduate, and now laboring as a Casino Pauma worker attempting to organize his fellow casino workers into a union.
“I see a lot of injustice on the job,” he said.
Abebe Antallo hails from Ethiopia. Once settled in San Diego, he began working as a taxi driver, holding the job for eight years. He cited the long hours and missed family time as sources inspiring his efforts aimed at organizing the United Taxi Drivers of San Diego. He is no longer employed, now blacklisted by local taxi companies.
“There is no equal right in the way we work,” he said.
Andrea Tookes spoke on the behalf of a new campaign launched in late March to unionize security officers.
“We need help, and we need to be appreciated,” said Tookes, a security guard for the last 15 years.
Tookes has had to hold down five different jobs to make ends meet. She lost custody of her two youngest children for having insufficient time at home with them. Then, she was required to pay child support to provide for their care. Rabbi Coskey noted the importance of security officers as first responders and as primary protectors of multimillion-dollar buildings and the other employees working in them.
The Seder meal includes recognition of blessings already received (Dayyenu: “It would have been enough”), recited with hope for greater future blessings. Labor Seder participants were invited to join wishes for sustainable wages and earned sick days, affordable health insurance, humane immigration reform and an end to cross-border human trafficking and exploitation, concluding with overall wishes for all labor being valued in San Diego, and for better lives for coming children and grandchildren.
Last up for personal stories of exodus were Lucero Maganda, who advocates for the DREAM Act as a young person of undocumented status, and Rosa Lopez, who described having to pay human traffickers $175 for crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Every one of the speakers were brought to tears by telling their stories.
The three central symbols of Passover are the Pesach (“Passover”) shank bone representing the sacrificial lamb whose blood marked Israelite homes for protection, the Maror (“bitter herb,” most often horseradish) symbolizing the suffering of slavery, and the matzah, with the flat bread raised as acknowledgment of the intense desire of humans to be free. The final course eaten is a roasted egg, symbolizing springtime renewal and new life. The last recitation is a cry, “Next year in freedom.”