The very first time I went on a Jewish Renewal retreat -- a week-long retreat at the Elat Chayyim Center for Jewish Spirituality, which was then in Accord, NY -- I spent my mornings studying Jewish meditation with Rabbi Jeff Roth (now of the Awakened Heart Project) and my afternoons talking tikkun olam /healing the world with Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center. I knew Reb Arthur's work already because I had read his book Godwrestling. I suspect that's where I first learned about the Freedom Seder.
The Freedom Seder was held on the third night of Passover, April 4, 1969, the first anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, in the basement of a Black church in Washington DC. About 800 people took part, half of them Jews, the rest Black and white Christians. (If you're interested, the text of the original 1969 haggadah is available online -- and here's a terrific NPR piece: In Freedom Seder, Jews and African Americans Built a Tradition Together.)
This November, the Freedom Seder and its legacy will be celebrated at Colorado University in Boulder with their second biannual Embodied Judaism Symposium, Freedom Seder: American Judaism and Social Justice on Thursday, November 12 from 4:30PM – 6:30PM on the CU-Boulder campus. The symposium will explore American political activism and religious practice in the wake of the 1969 Freedom Seder.
I'm honored to be included among the speakers at that symposium. Reb Arthur will be there and will speak about the original Freedom Seder and its impact on twenty-first century struggles for social justice. I'm planning to speak about how the Freedom Seder used the particularistic Jewish language and frametale of the seder in order to express a vision of justice and a world redeemed, as well as the impact of the 1969 event on the last few decades' worth of feminist seders.
Adam Bradley, Associate Professor of English and Founding Director of the Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture at CU-Boulder, will explore how the 1969 Freedom Seder’s core principles of grassroots social action, prophetic vision, and cross-racial collaboration are linked to the burgeoning hip hop culture of the mid-1970s. And Riv-Ellen Prell, Professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota, will address the cultural politics of the Freedom Seder and how the event challenged particularist understandings of Jewish ritual, recasting Jewishness as a radical platform for building bridges across race and religion.
I'm looking really forward to this symposium and to hearing what all of the other presenters have to say. If you're in the area and this sounds interesting to you, please join us! The Embodied Judaism Symposium is free and open to the public. However, space is limited, and RSVPs are required, so please email [email protected] or call 303.492.7143 to reserve a spot.