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Reform Jewish Movement Calls Attention to Slavery in Sudan and Mauritania During Passover

Rabbi Israel: "This Passover, as we recall our own slavery, we recommit ourselves to fight for freedom of all who are enslaved, wherever they are."

Contact: Alexis Rice or Danielle Hirsch (202)387-2800

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2001 - As the Jewish community prepares for Passover, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) and the Commission on Social Action (CSA) has distributed readings and prayers to draw attention to the issue of slavery in Sudan and Mauritania, which resonates strongly with the themes of Passover.

At this time of Passover, we recall in the Seder that "in every generation, we are commanded to view ourselves as if each one of us was personally brought forth out of Egypt." The purpose of such memory is to remind us of the feeling of being a slave. More than that, however, this command, combined with the rejoinder to "remember the stranger for we were strangers in the land of Egypt," is a call to action, a call for us to rise up against slavery and tyranny in our own time.

"This Passover, as we recall our own slavery, we recommit ourselves to fight for freedom of all who are enslaved, wherever they are," said Rabbi Marc Israel, Director of Congregational Relations at the RAC.

The situations in Sudan and Mauritania have a particular moral and human urgency to it, but too few people are aware of what is happening or its severity. The government of Sudan is the only country in the world today engaged in slavery, as documented by the United Nations Special Reports on Sudan and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom March 21st Report. In Sudan, two million have been killed and over 4 million have been displaced in a tragic civil war that has been fought primarily along religious lines: An extremist Islamist government in the North against primarily Christian and Animist populations of the South. Christian and Animist woman and children are routinely taken as bounty of militia raids (in which the men are killed) and then sold into slavery. Often, these slaves are forced to convert to Islam.

Across the continent in the West African nation of Mauritania, slavery is practiced on a massive scale. Nearly one million Mauritanians live in servitude. Although it has been illegal since 1981 to own slaves, the law never provided a provision for enforcement and thus many slave masters continue to hold slaves.

The following is the Seder reading on Sudan and Mauritania:

    On this holiday when we are commanded to relive the bitter experience of slavery, place a fourth matzah with the traditional three and read this prayer:

    (Holding the Fourth Matzah)

    "We raise this fourth matzah to remind ourselves that slavery still exists, that people are still being bought and sold as property, that the Divine image within them is yet being denied. We make room at our seder table and in our hearts for those in southern Sudan and in Mauritania who are now where we have been.

    We have known such treatment in our own history. Like the women and children enslaved in Sudan today, we have suffered while others stood by and pretended not to see, not to know. We have eaten the bitter herb; we have been taken from our families and brutalized. We have experienced the horror of being forcibly converted. In the end, we have come to know in our very being that none can be free until all are free.

    And so, we commit and recommit ourselves to work for the freedom of these people. May the taste of this ‘bread of affliction' remain in our mouths until they can eat in peace and security. Knowing that all people are Yours, O God, we will urge our government and all governments to do as You once commanded Pharaoh on our behalf: ‘Shalach et Ami! Let MY People Go!'"


The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) whose membership includes over 1700 Reform rabbis.

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