4/2/2008--Today, a celebration of the conversion experience of Arthur Waskow, which points us in the direction of Hallowed Secularism. Waskow sent the following account of the creation of the Freedom Seder in 1968 to his e-mail list today. I have edited it, but I recommend the whole account from the Shalom Center, http://www.democracyinaction.org/dia/organizationsORG/tsc/signUp.jsp?key=442.
It begins as follows:
“Death and Resurrection? Christian theology, of course, centers on that rhythm. Traditional Jewish prayerbooks also praise the God Who "gives life to the dead," but most modern Jews have either deleted or bowdlerized or ignored that passage. Forty years ago, I was the kind of activist secular Jew who not only ignored that passage, but ignored the prayerbook altogether. Yet precisely forty years ago I experienced a profound - and profoundly unexpected -- death-and-rebirth of my own self, deeply intertwined with the American agonies of that spring, that year.”
Waskow describes what happened after the assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968.
“By noon on April 5, Washington was ablaze. It was touch and go whether 18th Street - four houses from my door - would join the flames. Just barely, our neighborhood's interracial ties held fast.
By April 6, there was a curfew. Thousands of Blacks were being herded into jail for breaking it. But the police did not care whether whites were on the streets. So for a week, my white co-workers and I brought food, medicine, doctors from the suburbs into the schools and churches of burnt-out downtown Washington.”
Then the miracle happened, the deep sense of connection to eternity.
“And then came the afternoon of April 12. That night, Passover would begin. For me, it was worth doing because it echoed years of family and mentioned freedom. It was my only Jewish ritual, a bubble in time that had no connection with the rest of my life. So I walked home to help prepare the Seder. On every corner, detachments of the U.S. Army. On 18th Street, a Jeep with a machine gun pointing up my block. Somewhere within me, deeper than my brain or breathing, my blood began to chant: "This is Pharaoh's army, and I am walking home to do the Seder."”
Suddenly, the “religious” ritual of the Passover Seder became something real to Waskow.
“For the first time, we paused in the midst of the Telling itself, to connect the streets with the Seder. For the first time, we noticed the passage that says, "In every generation, one rises up to become an oppressor"; the passage that says, "In every generation, every human being is obligated to say, we ourselves, not our forebears only, go forth from slavery to freedom." In every generation. Including our own. Always before, we had chanted these passages and gone right on. Tonight we paused. Who and what is our oppressor? How and when shall we go forth to freedom?”
A few months later, Waskow began work on what would become The Freedom Seder.
“That fall, I dug out my old Haggadah, the one I had been given when I turned 13, the one with Saul Raskin's luscious drawings of the maidens who saved Moses from the river, the one that stirred my body each spring, those teen-age years. Into its archaic English renderings of Exodus and Psalms, I intertwined passages from King and Thoreau, Ginsberg and Gandhi, the Warsaw Ghetto and a Russian rabbi named Tamaret -- wove them all into a new Telling of the tale of freedom. Where the old Haggadah had a silly argument about how many plagues had really afflicted Egypt, I substituted a serious quandary: Were blood and killing a necessary part of liberation, or could the nonviolence of King and Gandhi bring a deeper transformation?”
What happened to Arthur Waskow can happen to everyone of us. Only in this way, can the old rituals live. This is Hallowed Secularism.