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E-Newsletter - Passover -Free Slaves!
April 10, 2014

Zissen Pesach - Free Slaves!

Welcome to the Passover season. We were slaves, and now we are free! How wonderful to make that declaration and commemorate our liberation. What will you choose to do with this great gift? For us this year the focus is on rescuing those who do not enjoy such choice – or even physical freedom.

In This Issue:

Slaves - Real Slaves - On Passover and All Year Round - A column by Rabbi Debra.

Great New Resources for Your Seder

Announcing: Jews Freeing Slaves - Rabbi Debra's new initiative.

"If You Were A Slave" - Debra's recent article in the NJ Jewish Standard.

Craig’s Corner - Notes from the rebbetzin

Teachings for the Omer - Audio meditations for growth during the counting.

With Gratitude - Thanks for Your Feedback & Support.

Slaves - Real Slaves - On Passover and All Year Round
by Rabbi Debra Orenstein

A funny memory stands out about the seders from my childhood. When we reached the song “avadim hayinu/we were once slaves,” my grandmother Libby – normally completely self-effacing and modest – piped up and asked loudly, “What do you mean I used to be a slave?!” We always laughed – she, most of all.

Passover cleaning and preparation can be arduous – and, at least in my family, its burdens fell disproportionately on the women. My grandmother’s “joke” raised my feminist consciousness even as it brought down the house. But I never dreamed, as a child or even part-way into my adulthood, that there were, literally, still slaves in this world.

Today, there are about 27 million people enslaved across the globe, including in the United States and in Israel.

If we hold seders without bringing their plight to the fore, what is the meaning and relevance of our rituals?

We sing: “Ata bnai chorin – now we are free.” What will we do with and about our freedom? Among other instructions, the Torah tells us repeatedly: “love the stranger for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.” This year, I have prepared readings, discussion starters, seder ideas, and tzedakah opportunities that will, hopefully, help all of us fulfill that essential mitzvah just a little bit better.

We used to be slaves. That’s not a joke.

There are slaves still today. That is deadly serious.

Over the last year, my consciousness has again been raised, in a very different way, toward making the world more equitable. I have immersed myself in studying the plight of contemporary slaves – and what can be done about it. On my website, there is a new page, Freeing Slaves, that summarizes some of what I have learned.

Just this week, after a full year of study, I launched a group called Jews Freeing Slaves, which provides information, updates, and, most urgently, the opportunity to donate as a Jew, in the name of God and Torah, to extraordinary people and organizations working to end slavery. (Just click on the red rectangle that says “fund” when you get to the page.)

In our daily lives, slavery is metaphorical. The people we know may be “enslaved” to a blackberry or a bad marriage, but they are, thank God, safe. They have autonomy. They have choices. So do we. May we use them wisely, to enjoy and to spread the great gift of freedom.

Blessings for a kosher, good, & sweet Passover!
– Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Great New Resources for Your Seder – Three new pages full of activities, discussion starters, handouts, and ideas for your seders.

Confronting Slavery at the Seder: A Handout of Discussion Starters, Activities & Readings

If You Are Hosting This Year . . . A Guide for Seder Hosts on What To Do, Read, and Change at Your Seder Because There Are Still Slaves in the World Today

Seder Coupons - A downloadable flyer with individualized “coupons” (four per page) that you can hand out at your seders, directing people where to contribute to help rescue slaves and keep them free.

Announcing Jews Freeing Slaves

Just this week, the Orenstein-Weisz family launched Jews Freeing Slaves. Click and visit to learn how we got started on this endeavor. Please, if you can, donate to rescue slaves by hitting the red rectangular button marked “FUND.”

The Baer Family of Fair Lawn, NJ introduced me to another wonderful tzedakah: Breaking the Chain Through Education. The Baers and Evan Robbins, the founder of BTCTE, recently spoke at our synagogue, Congregation B’nai Israel in Emerson, NJ, about their work rescuing and educating child slaves in Ghana. Learn more and donate at

"If You Were A Slave" – Debra was recently invited to become a columnist for The New Jersey Jewish Standard. Her first two columns have been on the subject of contemporary slavery.

Slavery Here and Now

If You Were A Slave

Craig's Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

I haven’t served in the IDF, but I have the t-shirt. I got it on my last trip to Israel, and I like to wear it to the gym and on bike rides. And yet I vacillate between pride showing my support for Israel and a little shame in that the shirt may mislead others into thinking I was in the Israel Defense Forces. I don’t want to be perceived – or feel myself – as an empty shell.

Coming next week, Passover concerns itself with process and choice. Through a strict ritual practice, we express to others – and ourselves - our Jewish identity. The practices and rituals provide the cloak of identity. The practices and rituals I share buttress and express my Jewish identity and let others perceive me as “Jewish.” But, like my IDF T-shirt, does this comfortable cloak hide true identity? The package says “Jew,” but what's inside? In how I live my life every day, what am I choosing?

The truth is that even pondering this question is a luxury. Thousands, actually millions all over the world, as Debra points out, don't enjoy this luxury. Domestic workers tricked by coyotes into indentured service, women betrayed, drugged, and forced into prostitution, children sold into labor – sometimes on fishing boats where they toil unseen all have no choice about the lives they lead every day. They are slaves, and they have little hope except us. Today. Now.

At the seder table we pray for providence and a future in messianic Jerusalem, but most of us have already been blessed – if we can appreciate it. We are the instrument by which Hashem redeems the world, and we live our purpose by providing the gift given to us: Freedom, choice, and the ability to do mitzvot.

In my IDF t-shirt, at the seder table, and every day, I don't want to be an empty shell, someone wearing a righteous cloak covering emptiness and squandered blessings. I wouldn't want that for you either. This Pesach, feel the wonder of the holiday and your identity as a Jew. Come to the seder with a full heart. Spread real freedom. Join us in freeing actual slaves. Donate now at Jews Freeing Slaves.

Teachings for the Omer - Audio meditations for growth during the counting.

Our teaching CD's, Transformation Now, Compassion Constantly, Awe Always, and Gratitude are wonderful tools to use throughout the Omer period between Passover and Shavuot. The Rabbis taught that the Israelites descended into 49 levels of impurity while enslaved in Egypt. There are 49 days between the start of the Omer and Shavuot. As we count the days, we are, as it were, climbing back up, out of the pit. We reach level ground at the foot of Mt. Sinai, ready to receive Torah.

Because the Omer is a time of spiritual preparation, Jews cultivate a variety of daily practices during this period, including formalized counting, daily text study, and meditations on the meaning of each day. Listening to a track each day from the CD’s is a great way to mark the days and enhance your preparation. Sinai, here we come!

Purchase Here

With Gratitude - We are truly grateful.
 - Thanks for Your Feedback & Support.

We were so touched (and Debra, also embarrassed) when The Jewish Forward named Debra as one of the country’s most inspiring rabbis. She was nominated by many students and congregants. We thank Kerry Salkin and all of you for that honor and for your support and feedback.

We always like to hear from you. Please write to us with any feedback, questions or support. Thanks so much. A happy and kosher Passover to all.

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