At her family’s Passover seder last April, Rabbi Debra Orenstein opted for the layered look: an ordinary T-shirt topped by a purple-and-black blouse made in India – and very likely sewn in a sweatshop by slave labor.
Passover begins Friday evening; more than 90 percent of Jews around the world will mark the holiday with seders: ritual dinners of family and friends accompanied by songs, prayers, and readings that tell the Biblical story of Exodus.
Working with Free the Slaves, a Washington advocacy center, Orenstein, rabbi of Congregation B’nai Israel in Emerson, N.J., created the Passover Project, a just-released set of resources – songs, readings, stories, quotes, and activities – to boost awareness and spark action to end human trafficking and enslavement. “If Jews are ever going to talk about ending slavery, this is the season when they’ll do it – a time when people are thinking about questions of freedom,” she says. “The message of Passover is one of empathy.”
According to Free the Slaves, which was launched in 2000 to liberate slaves and alter the conditions that allow slavery to persist, between 21 million and 36 million enslaved people toil across the world today. They peel shrimp in Thailand, harvest cacao in West Africa, perform sex work under coercion and threat. Twenty-six percent of them are children.