Stories and Systems, Seders and SEED
A key SEED practice is using personal stories to illuminate systems of inequality and oppression. I was reminded of that this past week as my family celebrated Passover, the Jewish holiday in which we remember gaining our freedom from slavery in Egypt — and when we encourage ourselves to keep working for the freedom of all people even today.
Jewish law says we are to tell the Passover story to our children — an early example of storytelling being used to shed light on the history of oppression. A Passover seder, the ceremonial and symbolic meal that begins the eight-day observance, involves the retelling of the long-ago exodus, guided by a text called a Haggadah. Although all Haggadot have the same basic elements, there are many variations. Each sets out the story, blessings, songs, and ritual questions in slightly different forms, often including additional readings and commentary. Many ask us to reflect on how the Passover story can help us understand and address modern oppressions and plagues and help those still struggling for freedom today.
Usually everyone at the table takes some part in the reading or responses, making it an interactive storytelling experience for all. The youngest child who is able traditionally asks the “Four Questions” about what makes the night different from all others. In the end, though, there are as many ways of holding a seder as there are families. Each has its own style and chooses which parts of the story to emphasize and which to use as a springboard for further discussion.
An increasing number of families and Haggadot also include elements recently introduced to the seder by people wanting to acknowledge traditionally marginalized groups. Women’s roles in the freeing of the Israelites — and women’s roles today — are now often recognized through a glass of water designated as “Miriam’s Cup,” in honor of Moses’ sister and a prophet in her own right, whose miraculous well and spirited songs, we are told, helped sustain them in the desert. Women, LGBT Jews, and other often-marginalized groups are sometimes also recognized by the addition of an orange — a very non-traditional item — to the seder plate of ritual foods. (For the origins of the orange as a symbol, see this article in Jewish United Fund News.)
While we each use a similar framework to tell the Passover story, therefore, ultimately we each make it our own. Through the retelling of the story, we shed light on systems of oppression that are as old as civilization, and become more aware of the systems that impact our own lives and the lives of others today.
I had been at seders before I came to SEED. SEED has helped me realize, however, that the link between storytelling and systems that I experienced at the Passover table was only one example of such a connection. The relationship between stories and systems is repeated in many ways around the world, helping people of all faiths, beliefs, and cultures to recognize oppression and work towards achieving true freedom for all.
— Dana Rudolph is the online content manager for the National SEED Project and attended SEED New Leaders' Week in 2012.