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E-Newsletter - Happy Passover!
March 30, 2015

Happy Passover!

Adonai brought us out of slavery with a “mighty hand and an outstreached arm, for God’s lovingkindness endures forever” (Psalms 136:12). This Passover, extend God’s love to those still enslaved.

In This Issue:

Modern Plagues - An essay by Rabbi Debra.

Craig’s Corner - Notes from the rebbetzin.

New Resources for Passover Related to Modern Slavery - Ideas for the seders and the classroom.

More Ideas and Downloads for Your Seders

Recent Articles by Debra - Essays about modern slavery and the new resources.

Donate to Free the Slaves! - Put these ideas into action.

Speaking and Teaching - Keep up with Debra's activities.

Staying In Touch - With thanks to our subscribers.

Modern Plagues
an essay by Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Deuteronomy 7:15 promises: “God will remove from you all the evil diseases of Egypt.” The verse goes on to explain that “evil diseases” may persist for the enemies of Israel and God; however, the innocent will not suffer. Clearly, the promise is not yet fulfilled.

As I read the Exodus story, the worst of the “evil diseases” of Egypt was the plague of slavery itself. Unfortunately, slavery is still very much with us. Today, there are approximately 36 million slaves in the world - 60,000 in the United States alone. For millions of people around the world – including enslaved children, who are estimated to be 26% of the total – there is no Shabbat rest and no Passover liberation. The “evil disease” of slavery persists.

When we look back, a week from now, there will be lots of valid measures to determine whether we had “good seders.” Did people experience a sense of liberation? Did they learn something? Were the food and company enjoyable? Are all the relatives still talking to each other?

For me, this year, the key metric comes down to this: did we help to wipe out the scourge of slavery? Did we rescue slaves, prevent slavery, and help people stay free?

A great role model for me is Kevin Bales, who founded the organization Free the Slaves.

Bales and Free the Slaves partner with locals, empower vulnerable communities, and provide targeted interventions, appropriate for each region. Together, they conduct raids to rescue slaves. They provide former slaves with medical, psychological, and vocational support. They advocate for appropriate laws and enforcement, reducing corruption and training police officers to identify and intercede on behalf of enslaved people. They engage in community organizing. When people know their rights and are aware of traffickers’ common ploys, they can protect themselves. Free the Slaves and its partners offer impoverished people in remote regions access to food, health care, credit, and education, so that those most vulnerable to slavery can resist predators promising them “fair loans” or “a good job” for their son or daughter. Free the Slaves even helps to create sustainable alternatives for would-be traffickers.

The best way to support these compassionate and effective interventions is with dollars. Click on the logo above, or click here to donate.

Bales also challenges people to help end slavery through our buying habits. “Stop eating and wearing and driving slavery,” he writes. Many of the products we use every day – the clothes on our backs, the components in our computers, the chocolate in our vending machines – are created through slave labor. By paying attention to the supply chain (, demanding transparency from the companies we buy from, and paying just a bit more, we can keep people free.

Among the resources that Seder Starters links to is a Haggadah put out by the Religious Action Center entitled Invisible: The Story of Modern Slavery, A Social Justice Haggadah. Slavery is indeed invisible to us most of the time – and that is why we allow it to persist.

At the Passover seder, when we re-experience the bitterness of our own enslavement and celebrate our liberation, remaining blind to the slavery of others is not just ironic – it is unforgiveable.

The truth is: We know. We see. The newspapers carry evidence of slavery almost daily. Don’t let the Festival of Freedom go by without doing something about it!

May God help us to remove from the world the worst of the “evil diseases” of ancient Egypt, the plague that gave rise to the famous ten: slavery.

Craig's Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

What are you "free" to do?

Tradition is great as it connects us to identity and enduring values – but that presupposes the values being passed on are good – and more than just self-congratulatory for surviving. Does your faith, your Judaism, do more than give you a warm fuzzy feeling for being part of “the good team?” Does it give you the moral and ethical tools and the will to stand for something and be an agent for positive change in the world?

I’ve been privileged to be part of Debra’s campaign to win support for ending slavery. It’s frightening to have your eyes opened. There’s a strong likelihood that the fish you eat, the clothes you wear, the “sinfully delicious” chocolate you enjoy were all produced at least in part by slaves, by people forced to work against their will, for no pay, and who live in bondage with no freedom. Now I know it’s all too easy to feel disconnected from this tragedy or helpless to make a change. Don’t go there! Take this moment and picture, envision these people, these, men, these women, these children – just as human as you are – living in bondage, in forced labor, to produce goods, ultimately, for you. Are you ashamed? What will you do about it?

There’s a new documentary film, The Abolitionists, about a group of former SEALs, Green Berets, and CIA operatives who are going undercover in dangerous places around the world to expose and apprehend slavers. OUR Rescue works with local authorities, but they are the ones putting their lives on the line, going in unarmed, wearing a wire or a concealed camera. It’s baddass, Man. These guys are heroes! Head of the spear, semper fi. Freeing slaves and catching bad guys. Awesome!

What will you do about it - as a Jew celebrating your Passover and liberation? What does our tradition empower you to do beyond simply remembering the past? We’re making it easy for you. We’ll help you be part of the solution. This is something you can help to solve by going onto and donating. Enter your card information, click on “submit,” and imagine the weight lifting off these men, these women, these children. Envision it happening. This Passover, make the holiday and our Jewish tradition more meaningful. Envision the freedom we can bring. You are the hand of God – when you reach out and act.

New Resources for Passover Related to Modern Slavery - Ideas for the seders and the classroom.

Rabbi Debra has partnered with Free the Slaves and a dozen rabbis and educators to create resources for Passover that help to connect our Festival of Freedom to the plight – and hope – of people enslaved today.

Coupons for Your Seder Table – easy to read, digest, and distribute, these coupons give you basic facts about what it costs today to buy a slave – and to free a slave. The coupons also let people know where they can donate to aid the cause of freedom this Passover.

Seder Starters – readings and activities for addressing the issue of modern slavery at your seders. Use this resource yourself and share it with others. Among ideas and resources offered:

Add a padlock to the seder plate . . . Share the testimony of a slave who has been freed . . . Lift up modern “products of affliction” when you lift up the traditional “bread of affliction” (matzah) . . . Ask a Fifth Question (about slaves) . . . Enumerate the plagues of modern slavery . . . Sing a new song about what might be Dayenu (enough) for contemporary slaves . . . Calculate your slavery footprint . . . Give an Afikoman gift that matters... and much more!

Modern Slavery Fact Sheet - This user-friendly information sheet about contemporary slavery (two sides of a single page) was developed by Free the Slaves. The numbers and graphs are large and simple enough for even young children to understand.

Judaism & Modern Slavery Curriculum - lesson plans for every age, from kindergarteners through adults. Curricula written by a dozen Jewish educators provide options for different Hebrew levels, settings, and movements. Good for classes leading up to and following up on Passover. Useful throughout the year for teaching the Book of Exodus and Jewish values.

Webinar - provides background information, suggestions for use, and a guided tour of the Seder Starters and Curriculum. The speakers include Maurice Middleberg, Executive Director of Free The Slaves, Rabbi Erin Hirsh, Rabbi Jane Rachel Litman, Rabbi Lev Meirowitz Nelson, Dr. Shoshana Silberman and Rabbi Debra Orenstein.

All the materials are free and easily downloadable, in order to encourage their widespread use. If everyone who checks out the resources also makes a donation to Free the Slaves, we will liberate thousands of people this Passover!

More Ideas and Downloads for your Seders

Visit the Passover Page at for dozens of ideas on how to increase the engagement, meaning, fun, and participation at the seders you host or attend.

Recent Articles by Debra - Debra has published several articles recently about modern slavery and the new resources.

Do One Thing Different – describes an approach for improvements in our seders, our lives, and the lives of slaves.

See One Person, Be One Person – An op-ed in The New York Jewish Week newspaper about developing compassion by seeing the plight of just one person, developing activism by doing all the good you can.

Forthcoming in The (New Jersey) Jewish News: “Memory – Sublime and Ridiculous” – How freeing slaves, watching t.v., and Yizkor bind me to my dad during the Passover season.

Donate to Free the Slaves! - Put these ideas into action.

Just click on the logo above to donate.

This Passover, extend an “outstretched arm” to help lift others out of slavery and keep them free.

On average, it now costs about $950 to rescue a slave. With $1800, Free the Slaves has a track record of rescuing 1-2 people, training one police officer or other government official, providing services to three survivors, paying to secure 1-2 villages, and educating 65 people on how to protect themselves against traffickers.

Speaking and Teaching - Keep up with Debra's activities.

Rabbi Debra will be a guest speaker over Shabbat in Bloomington, Indiana in April and in Chautauqua, New York in August. Please join her, if you are in the area. The details are on our Calendar page. Or join her throughout the year for services and classes at her home synagogue in Emerson, New Jersey.

If you would like to invite Rabbi Debra to be a guest speaker or scholar-in-residence in your community, please contact us or visit the Scholar-In-Residence page.

Staying in Touch - With thanks to our subscribers

Please be in touch via e-mail with any comments or questions about the newsletter, the teaching CD's, or any resources on the website.

We always appreciate any positive reviews you might leave on iTunes, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble. Thank you for all your interest and support.

Have a Zissen (Sweet) and Liberating Holiday!

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