Special thanks to Rachael and Melissa for their stats and encouragement.
This was the opening statement read at the start of the seder:
On Passover, we ask why this night is different from other nights. But in the current climate, it seems a more pressing question to ask is how is this year different from other years. One need not be the wise son to count the ways. So tonight, as we gather together to remember that the Jewish people were once slaves in Egypt, we thought it would be appropriate to recognize the current struggles for freedom happening in North America and around the world. We will dedicate each of the four cups of wine to a different group of people whose liberty is still limited in some way. After the blessing, one person will read a short statement before we drink that concludes with a toast for a brighter future next Passover.
Tonight the four groups are(/Last night the four groups were) the LGBTQ community, forced migrants and refugees, indigenous peoples, and the wrongfully incarcerated.
Tomorrow night the four groups will be(/Tonight the four groups are) women, the enslaved or those labouring in slave-like conditions, those living in poverty, and the victims of Islamophobia.
We hope that this addition to our Seder will spur reflection and conversation. And if you feel inspired by what you hear tonight, we encourage you to mark this Passover with some form of action: be it through donation, volunteering, signing a petition, or contacting your political representative. Next year we may not be in Jerusalem, but let us work to find ourselves in a better world.
And here are the statements for each cup:
1. LGBTQ Community
We dedicate this cup of wine to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning people around the world who face social stigma, legal discrimination, systemic inequality, and hate-based violence because of who they are. At present, 79 countries have laws that criminalize LGBTQ people’s existence and ten countries sentence homosexuals to death. In North America, LGBTQ people suffer higher rates of violence, poverty, police contact, and mental and physical illness. But despite this, the LGBTQ community’s courage and persistence in combatting barriers to equality continually demonstrate the undeniable power of love and pride. We hope that next year brings even more gains and a world that celebrates difference as beautiful.
2. Forced migrants and refugees
We dedicate this cup of wine to the forced migrants and refugees around the world fleeing war, genocide, natural disaster, poverty, and persecution. In 2015, the UN estimated that 65.3 million people, or roughly one person in every 113, were involuntarily displaced from their homes. Jewish history is full of forced migrations, beginning with those who fled Egypt in Exodus. Had the world completely closed its doors to Jewish refugees in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we would not be here to celebrate Passover today. We hope that next year brings all people peace and prosperity, and a world that welcomes those seeking refuge from harm.
3. Indigenous peoples
We dedicate this cup of wine to indigenous peoples around the world who have endured a history of enslavement, dispossession, forced migration, and extermination, and who currently face increased rates of poverty, mental and physical illness, institutionalization, and crime. Indigenous communities also face unique environmental challenges. For instance, currently more than eighty First Nations communities in Canada have to boil their tap water before using it. Despite being one of the world’s most marginalized groups, indigenous peoples show tremendous perseverance and leadership in protesting against political, social, and environmental injustice. We hope that next year brings a world committed to combatting the legacies of imperialism and cultivating respect for all indigenous peoples.
4. The wrongfully incarcerated and those facing sentences unbefitting their crimes
We dedicate this cup of wine to those wrongfully incarcerated or facing sentences unbefitting their crimes. In the United States, about one in every 25 people sentenced to death are later proven innocent. In addition, experts estimate that as many as tens of thousands of innocent people may currently be imprisoned, usually because of official misconduct or the inability to afford an adequate defense. We hope that next year brings freedom and justice to all those who are unfairly incarcerated.
We dedicate this cup of wine to women in North America and around the world who face reduced access to education, healthcare, safety, adequate pay, and positions of power. Gender inequality affects multiple aspects of our society, so here are just two examples: Women are overwhelmingly the victims of intimate partner violence. In North America, one in every four women will experience it in her lifetime; globally that number is one in three. Women are also more likely to live in poverty than men, in part because of the pay gap. White women in Canada make only 72 cents for every male dollar earned for equal work. That number decreases for women of colour – for instance, indigenous women make just 55 cents. We hope that next year brings us a world committed to gender equality.
2. The enslaved and those labouring in slave-like conditions
We dedicate this cup of wine to those held in slavery or labouring in slave-like conditions. In 2016, the Global Slavery Index estimated that 45.8 million people suffered some form of enslavement, which includes human trafficking, forced labor, and commercial sexual exploitation. In North America, the legacies of black and Aboriginal enslavement continue to cause social, political, and economic injustice. As we rejoice in our liberty from bondage, Passover also encourages us to recognize that slavery is not merely a past problem confined to ancient Egypt. We hope that next year, all people can celebrate their freedom as we do tonight.
3. Those living in poverty
We dedicate this cup of wine to those in North America and around the world who are living in poverty. Currently, about half of the world’s population survives on just $2.50 per day and about 15 percent of Canadians live below the poverty line. The poor face a myriad of disadvantages beyond just economics, including higher rates of mortality, preventable illnesses, unsafe living conditions, exploitive workplaces, domestic violence, and everyday stress. Poverty is a problem that disproportionately affects groups who are already vulnerable, like people of colour, the disabled, the elderly, non-English speakers, women, and the mentally ill. We hope that next year brings all people equal access to basic necessities and opportunities and the chance to live and work with dignity.
4. The victims of Islamophobia
We dedicate this cup of wine to those in North America and around the world who are victims of Islamophobia. Experts estimate that current rates of Islamophobic hate speech and violence are as high as they were immediately following 9/11. This winter, a white supremacist shot twenty-five Muslims worshipping in a Quebec City mosque, killing six. In addition to these acts of hate, Islamophobia has increasingly been codified into law in western nations. We remember that some of the baseless accusations made against Muslims to justify these actions were once used to describe Jews - that is, that they are perpetual foreigners, disloyal, and dangerous. We hope that next year brings a world in which all people are free to live and worship without fear.