Guest Blog: Reflection on a Journey Towards Freedom
Ten years ago, the Center for the Prevention of Sexual Violence (now FaithTrust Institute), published A Journey Towards Freedom: A Haggadah for Women Who Have Experienced Domestic Violence. The text, borne out of a series of ongoing workshops with survivors of domestic violence, and lovingly crafted by a dedicated group of advocates, educators, and spiritual leaders spoke to the command l'hageed, to tell of our story at Passover.
Ten years ago, the Center for the Prevention of Sexual Violence (now FaithTrust Institute), published A Journey Towards Freedom: A Haggadah for Women Who Have Experienced Domestic Violence. The text, borne out of a series of ongoing workshops with survivors of domestic violence, and lovingly crafted by a dedicated group of advocates, educators, and spiritual leaders spoke to the command l'hageed, to tell of our story at Passover. The journey from slavery to freedom, from oppression to liberation is ongoing. How is it that we find the courage, strength and wisdom to speak of our experience?
An alternative blessing text accompanies the traditional brachot (blessings) for each cup of wine/juice in A Journey Towards Freedom. Here, we refer to God as m'kor hatikvah, source of hope. I have long believed that hope is the courage to open our hearts to the possibilities around us. What possibilities might we imagine from a place of enslavement?
Imagine a world where individuals and communities name domestic violence as a sin against humanity and commit to instituting safeguards for those in need and implementing systemic changes to eradicate violence against women and children.
Imagine a world where those inclined to blame the victim and presume battered women "can just leave" are motivated to ask why people batter and begin to hold abusers accountable for their actions.
Imagine a world where people understand that anger management and marital counseling do not address patterns of coercive behavior used to maintain power and control over an intimate partner.
Imagine a world where all agree that shalom bayeet (peace in the home) does not mean keeping silent and subordinating oneself to a life partner.
Avadeem hayeenu l'faroh b'meetzrayeem; atah, b'nai horeen
we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt; now, we are free people.
Communal responsibility, authorization of an inclusive Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), speaking truth to power all help to keep our intentions focused on a better future. We must take care not to ignore the present in favor of the future. Slavery takes it toll; it imprints our memories (if not our bodies) with scars that may remain for a lifetime. Matzah is called lechem oni - bread of poverty. It is also the bread of answers. The skinny, crumbly bread of affliction on our seder table calls on us to think about how we came to this day and ask, where are we in relation to where we need to go?
"The caged bird says: You see my food but you do not see my captivity" (Kohelet Rabbah). In order to recreate the world in which we might live in justice, freedom, and peace, we must use many lenses to see not just what is in someone else's backyard but what is often right in front of our eyes. It is not enough tell the old story without questioning, challenging, raising our expectations for what just, right, true, and holy.
So, we invite the source of hope into our midst. Like a wellspring of what might be, reminding us when we feel depleted and wonder how we might take the next step, she is a kernel from which life preserving water might emerge. Whether as a trickle, or a rush of tears, the signs of potential must be ours.
The other day, my daughter ran her hand over the cover of A Journey Towards Freedom. "Mama, what is that book? I want to read it." "It's a Haggadah, Z. Why do you want to read it?" "It has a princess on it. It is so beautiful." This Pesach, as we take note of the moon at its fullest, let us commit to shine light on the beauty and potential in each one of us. May it keep us honest, accountable, and attuned to what it means to be free.
Rabbi Lisa Gelber serves as Associate Dean of the Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary. A former member of the Board of Directors of FaithTrust institute, and a trained spiritual director, she lives in New York City with her daughter.
This book transforms the traditional Passover Seder into a special service that addresses the oppression and liberation of women journeying from abuse to safety.
Passover is the Jewish people's festival of freedom, celebrating the exodus and liberation of our Israelite ancestors from slavery in Egypt. Passover is the festival of springtime, the season of rebirth and renewal. Central to Passover is the seder, an evening shared in community with special foods, prayers, songs, and interactive telling of the story of the exodus.