How Martin Luther King, Jr. Inspired a Passover Seder


The Passover Seder that Martin Luther King, Jr. Inspired

All this week, Jewniverse is honoring Black History Month with some of our favorite stories from the archives.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated just eight days before Passover in 1968. Among those grieving his loss were Jews who had joined his nonviolent protest movement, and were dedicated to the causes of civil rights and peace that he championed. Many Jews brought discussions about civil rights to their seder tables that year.

By the next year, a community activist (who would later become a rabbi) named Arthur Waskow had come up with the Freedom Seder. The inaugural seder, held in a black church in the heart of Washington D.C., and attended by Jews and other civil rights activists, intertwined the story of slavery under Pharaoh with the story of Black America’s struggle for liberation, and the liberation of other peoples as well.

In surviving video footage from that seder you see lots of things you probably recognize from your own seder table: candles, matzah, a recitation of the ten plagues, families looking mildly bored. But there are probabaly elements that are less familiar, like dozens of people holding hands singing “We Shall Overcome” and “Solidarity Forever.”A priest jokes about birth control. Black and white participants probe their traditions and mull over the true meaning of freedom.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, join us in honoring the legacy of Dr. King, and the complicated, rich history of black-Jewish relations.


» See footage from the 1969 Freedom Seder
» Hear 7 black Jews reflect on MLK, Jr.’s legacy
» Buy the 1970 Freedom Seder Haggadah
» Consider why some historians are opposed to MLK Day


Watch surviving footage from the Freedom Seder:

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