Liberation Seder

Our Liberation Seder is back and in more cities than ever. This year the Seder will take place in Hamilton, London and Toronto. We will remember the Land Day and the Nakba.

We are also please to announce that our own Rabbi Lucia Pizarro will lead the Seders in Toronto and London while the Seder in Hamilton will be lead by our special guest from Vancouver, returning for a second year, Rabbi David Mivasair.

Photo: Rabbi David Mivasair with Palestinian Flag

About Rabbi David Mivasair

Rabbi David Mivasair is motivated by the commandments "justice, justice you shall pursue" and "seek peace and pursue it".  For over 25 years, David served as the spiritual leader of synagogues in the US and in Vancouver, where he lives.  David is active in the leadership of Independent Jewish Voices in Canada and Jewish Voice for Peace in the US.  He lived in Israel for four years and in May went with 130 other Jews to support Palestinian activists defending their communities from destruction.

Photo of Rabbi Lucia Pizarro

About Rabbi Lucia Pizarro

Lucia was born in Mexico City, where she became qualified to practice law. She completed an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Essex in the UK. She followed her academic passion for Jewish thought with four years working for social justice in Palestine. She recently became a mother and a Rabbi.

Definitions of "Passover" and "Liberation Seder"

We offer the following definitions of "Passover" and "liberation seder": At Passover ("Pesach" in Hebrew), Jewish families celebrate with a ritual family dinner at which the story of the liberation of the ancient Hebrews from oppression in the land of Egypt ("Mitzrayim"), is recited. Seder means "order"—the order of the meal and ritual of Pesach that Jews all over the world have participated in for centuries. It is customary among Jews to invite guests, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to join their Passover celebration.

Our Liberation Seder draws on the legacy of Rabbi Akiva who used the Pesach Seder to plan a revolutionary struggle against the Romans, and of the many Jews in every generation who have used the Seder for political purposes, including the Partisans of the Warsaw Ghetto who began their revolt on the first night of Pesach, not only because the tactical need of the moment, but also because their understanding of the meaning of the Passover story.

As Jews committed to current liberation struggles, we enact this ritual to honour our history of resilience and participation in diverse movements for human emancipation across time. The ritual of the Seder gives us an opportunity to contend not only with legacies of oppression but also with current suffering that we survive, that we perpetrate and in which we are complicit.

Our Seders are dedicated to a free Palestine and the liberation of all peoples.

Underwriters, Endorsers, Sponsors, Partners and Community Friends:

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East - Hamilton; Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War; International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) - Canada; Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) - Hamilton; NION Canada; Palestinian Association of Hamilton; People for Peace, London Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) - McMaster; Stop the JNF – Canada; The Nook Cafe; Women in Solidarity with Palestine

A Tu B'Shvat message from our own SandraLaya

Celebrate the New Year of the Trees by Planting Olive Trees in Palestine!

Dear Friend,

Photo: Olive treeThis year Tu B'Shvat begins at sunset on January 30th. In the West, Tu B'Shvat, known as the "New Year of Trees", reminds us of the budding life beneath the blanket of winter. It is a Jewish holiday with a long history. In ancient times, farmers gave a portion of their fruits and nuts to people without land. In the 17th century, Jewish mystics hosted ritual meals, or seders, eating symbolic foods which represent various states of consciousness, and enjoying wine in stages from white to red.

In the 20th century, Tu B'Shvat was co-opted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). It was promoted as an occasion to raise money for the state of Israel. Since its inception, the JNF has functioned with impunity as a nationalist land trust, buying and stealing land in Palestine/Israel exclusively for Jewish use. Through calling on Jews worldwide to donate and "plant a tree in Israel", the JNF took what was a spiritual celebration of our planet's natural cycles, and turned it into a propaganda tool for their colonial project.

Trees for Life: Planting Peace in PalestineIJVa video: Canadians are subsidizing the dispossession of Palestinians - help us put an end to this!

Let's resist and rewrite this story of dispossession. As a statement of our commitment to resist the use of trees to cover up ethnic cleansing and the destruction of communities and land, we invite you to plant a tree in Palestine this Tu B'Shvat through the Trees for Life program.

Your donation will provide saplings to Palestinian farmers, and support the Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA). The PFTA unites and supports farmers across Palestine. Priority goes to small farmers, young farmers, women interested in farming and farmers who have lost trees to the occupation.

Honour the sacred tree - it is the path of good and the path of life to anyone who cleaves to it.

Honour and REgenerate by planting a tree in Palestine this year!

Photo: SandraLaya

In solidarity,
SandraLaya Ruch
Celebrant of Life Cycle Events
IJV Spiritual Committee, Toronto

Our Hanukkah

Marc H. Ellis

Photo and link: Narrow Bridge Candles Photo: Marc Ellis
"Is it possible to remake Hanukkah to serve as a focal point for a Jewish theology of liberation?" 

With Hanukkah we think Festival of Lights and the Maccabean Revolt, of sacred oil and the struggle against the Hellenization of ancient Jewish life. Historical or apocryphal, we are ready for the eight nights that set us apart from Christians in North America and Palestinians in Israel. We relish our separateness. Jewishness persists.

Yet Hanukkah represents only a symbolic apartness. In our daily life, assimilation to the state and to power is now the Jewish norm. Most Jews live within the protective umbrella of the North American and Israeli empires. These empires are protected by militarized engines of injustice, toward native peoples, toward those of African descent, toward Palestinians. This assimilation has been true for decades but our awareness is growing. Thus the recent and ongoing explosion of our Jewish indigenous, the prophetic.

So unexpected was the reemergence of the prophetic, especially with the Holocaust and the state of Israel created in its shadow. Entire ideologies and theologies were constructed to prevent this renewed prophetic. New Jewish institutions have been built to police Jewish dissent. This makes the prophetic today, as in ancient time, costly. Even so, the essence of Jewishness persists.

In North America and Israel, Hanukkah has a dual constituency. On the one hand, Hanukkah is celebrated by Jews who relish, benefit from and enable empire, Constantinian Jews. On the other hand, Hanukkah is celebrated by those who seek community, inclusion and equality, Jews of Conscience. These constituencies are at odds.

There is a civil war within Jewish life as we celebrate Hanukkah this year. Constantinian Jews and Jews of Conscience are moving in radically different directions. Much is at stake, indeed the very meaning of what it means to be Jewish. The Jewish civil war isn't a passing phenomena either. Neither side of the Jewish civil war will convert the other. It is a fight to the finish.

The war between Constantinian Jews and Jews of Conscience is permanent.

Jews of Conscience have a choice. To abandon Hanukkah, and other Jewish holy days, Passover comes to mind, as lost to Constantinian Judaism. Or Jews of Conscience can wrestle with these holy days and stake our claim. Hanukkah as light in a dark time and as a site for struggle against assimilation to the state and power is ripe for Jews of Conscience to observe and hold high. If we are to do this, however, the historical and apocryphal must give way to our present. Mindful of history and myth, Jews of Conscience must make Hanukkah our own, in a liberationist framework, in the context of Jewish empowerment, the Jewish civil war and the collateral damaged parties to this conflict, native peoples, people of African descent, Palestinians.

Can we wrestle Hanukkah from its conformity to power, its North American competitive Christmas showmanship and domination of Palestinians? Is it possible to remake Hanukkah to serve as a focal point for a Jewish theology of liberation? We need to be brutally honest here. Simply to play Hanukkah as a clash with Constantinian Judaism is bound to fail. Constantinian Hanukkah has too much going for it to play with its symbols - only. The danger of religious calendars, including our own, is that they normalize conformism and dissent. God forbid, we end up replicating the endless and already lost Christian struggle to redefine what the "real" Christmas is.

As Jews, we watch this annual parsing of Christmas with bemusement. We know the same discourse will return next year. We know neither side is going anywhere. Hanukkah can be like that, too. Perhaps it  already is.

As with Christmas (and Easter), Hanukkah (and Passover) are shattered and in ruins. They are infected with atrocity. They will never be, they should never be, whole again. The challenge? What to do with our shattered fragments? What is left of these holy days? What can be gleaned from them? What has to be left behind?

To glean - garner, collect, gather, scrape together - Hanukkah. Indeed, what is left of holiness after atrocity?

Hanukkah is not the same - as it was. It cannot be reclaimed - as it was. Does Hanukkah's shattered fragments say anything to us today? A crucial test: What do the shattered fragments of Hanukkah say to those whom we oppress?

In the end, though, it is up to us. What does our celebration of Hanukkah say to and about us? Taking the tradition as it is, even with delightful rabbinic twists and turns, means our refusal to acknowledge the emergency we are in. As Jews, we dwell in the abyss of injustice. Should our celebrations be transformed into mourning rites?

However we observe the Jewish holy days, our celebrations should not be publically performed if they symbolize ruin to others. This is what we said, quite rightly, to our Christian neighbors about their theology of salvation after the Holocaust. On Hanukkah, in relation to Israel and the Palestinians, the same challenge must be applied to us.

We have arrived at the end of ethical Jewish history. As with Jewish life in general, the Hanukkah story can only be seen through this frame. The end is difficult to admit, let alone to live. Yet it is here that we become free. Since we are not returning to a tradition infected with atrocity, we are free to chart our course.

We are not alone. There are many others, from all walks of life, geographies and faith traditions who have reached their end as well. When Jews remember what has been lost, we are joined by a mixed multitude who have experienced similar loses. As fellow exiles, perhaps we can advise each other that none of us are going back. We can only move forward together.

The prophets have always gathered light in the darkness. This is the prophet's vocation. As Jews of Conscience, with other people of conscience, we must be light-gatherers. On Hanukkah, perhaps we can gather enough light to keep our human journey going for another year.

Marc H. Ellis is retired university professor of Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Baylor University. He is the author and editor of more than 25 books, including Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation (1987, 1989, 2004) published by Baylor University Press

e-mail info(at) if you have questions.