This spring, Jews across the world will gather around our dining room tables and in social halls in synagogues and JCCs to participate in a Seder, celebrating the first night of Pesach (Passover). We will drink four cups of wine, taste the bitterness of slavery with a bite of maror (bitter herbs), and sample the sweetness of freedom with a mouthful of charoset (a sweet mixture of wine, apples, and nuts). We will read the age-old story of the slavery of our people in Egypt and their miraculous exodus, from physical bondage into freedom. The youngest child at the table will sing the Ma Nishtana, which asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
Every year, we gather at Passover to retell our story to ensure that we don’t forget. For the Jewish people, this story may be the most important story we tell – as it has shaped our Jewish consciousness and values. It instructs us on who we are, what we have experienced, and how we are to act in the world. It is the foundation of Jewish ethics.
The Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures) insists that, as we experienced slavery and suffering, we are obligated to protect the powerless and the oppressed. Throughout the generations, the story of the Exodus has encouraged secular and religious Jews alike to bring more justice into the world.
This commitment to freeing those in bondage is more relevant than ever today. Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery—a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to an estimated 30 million people around the world, with an estimated 1,305 cases reported just in California last year. It affects human beings across the globe and across every community, age, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic background.
Human beings are trafficked for the purpose of manual forced labor, in fields or sweatshops, working 18 hour days for little or no pay. One would be shocked and dismayed to learn how much of our clothing, technology, cosmetics and food products are made by slaves. Child laborers make bricks, do farm work, weave rugs, sew shirts, dive for fish, and build electronics. Think this doesn’t pertain to you? Learn how many slaves have participated in making products you own.
Then there’s sex trafficking, which enslaves, at a modest estimate, 24 million boys, girls, and women worldwide. They are forced to work as prostitutes, escorts, in illicit massage parlors, and in bars and strip clubs.
The Passover story reminds us that freedom is the essential birthright of every human being. We must continue to act to eradicate all forms of slavery, be it physical, sexual, or economic. This year, when our children ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” let us answer, “Because tonight we promise to keep faith with our heritage and tradition. We promise to help liberate those who are slaves in our time.”
Celebrate Passover in Good Consciousness Enjoy Passover in sweetness and without the bitterness of slavery. Fair Trade Judaica and T’ruah offer Fair Trade, kosher for Passover chocolate through a partnership with Equal Exchange.
Receive Action Alerts about fighting modern day slavery, together with other human rights issues. Sign up for the mailing list of T’ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
Advocate for More Services
The National Survivor Network (NSN) is comprised of survivors who have banded together to advocate for policies they believe will be effective. NSN also has survivors who speak publicly; be prepared to pay an honorarium as you would for any other guest speaker.
Meet With Your Member of Congress
Even if there isn’t pending legislation, letting Congress know you care about modern slavery makes a difference when laws are introduced. Fighting slavery is a bi-partisan issue. Together with the National Council of Jewish Women, T’ruah coordinates JCAT (The Jewish Coalition Against Trafficking), a coalition of national Jewish organizations that advocates for anti-trafficking legislation.
Donate to organizations that are part of Freedom Network or ATEST (Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking). The Beyond Survival Fund provides emergency support to trafficking survivors, bridging the gap until they can receive government benefits.
Learn About the Supply Chain
Since 2012, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act requires most large companies to post their anti-slavery policies on their websites. KnowTheChain has a database of over 5,000 companies’ statements. Shop at and invest in businesses with clear guidelines backed by third party, ongoing, on-the-ground monitoring.
Pick Up The Phone
Memorize the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, 1.888.373.7888, which is open 24/7 for information, references, or if you suspect you’ve discovered a case of modern slavery. Polaris, which runs the hotline, also has excellent resources explaining the various forms of trafficking we see in the United States and how we can make a difference.
Buy Fair Trade Products
Products commonly include chocolate, coffee, and tea. Keep in mind that organic and Fair Trade are not the same, although organic farms may be healthier environments for farmworkers. Child slavery, in particular, is an issue in the cocoa supply chain.
Follow Anti-Trafficking Organizations Through Social Media
@FreedomNetUSA, @GlblFreedomCtr, @CIW, @Truahrabbis, @DamayanMigrants, @Polaris_Project, @ATEST, @freetheslaves, @Allianceforfairfood.