Sanctuary around the Seder table

Every year since I was about twelve years old I planned my own seder. I would wrangle anyone I could to join me - family, friends, strangers I met in the park near my house in Philadelphia - and spend hours preparing a Passover in which I followed my own lead; I asked and answered The Four Questions, I bargained with myself over the Afikomen, and most importantly, I connected the themes of exodus, slavery and liberation to a current event.

I quickly learned that no one had patience for reading the entire Haggadah (the book that tells the story of Passover) and started making my own abbreviated versions, complete with non-technical English transliterations of the Hebrew blessings.

One year the Seder theme was the genocide in Darfur, another time was the refugee crisis. I described how immigration policies that generate terror and break up families were like the Pharaoh's cruel decrees in Ancient Egypt, or how gentrification in San Francisco’s Mission District, that forced people out of their homes, recalled the Jews who fled Egypt without time to allow bread to leaven.

This year, my Passover seder was about sanctuary. I’m a disabled person who intermittently hires home care workers, and I have become more and more involved in organizing for both disability justice and workers rights in the Bay Area. As a member of Hand in Hand and disability justice organizer in the Bay Area, I have found that I have a specific role to play in creating more Sanctuary spaces and am working to grow our #SanctuaryHomes work -- uniting those homes into a larger Sanctuary Neighborhood.  

Sanctuary was a natural fit with the story of Passover - with ICE as Pharaoh and undocumented immigrant families as Jews --  and as we read the Haggadah, more and more allegorical themes arose. We read a passage about the hard work that Jewish women did to clean their homes of chametz (bread crumbs that more observant Jews clean out of their homes before Passover) and I mentioned that this physical labor is the daily work of many domestic workers.

Some guests talked about how they previously did or currently do this practice - and how some of them hire house cleaners to do this work. One guest reminisced about her time working for a Jewish family as a maid — cleaning out the chametz was part of her job. It reminded me how important it is for us to share stories of our real lives -- that’s a true intersectional activist framework -- because none of us live in identity silos, and the struggles we engage in necessarily overlap.

Our younger guests generously lent us masks so that we could each dress up as one of the Ten Plagues, and we grappled with the challenge of rejoicing a victory that resulted from pain and suffering in other  communities.

I invited the guests to contemplate ways in which we are both modern day Jews fleeing slavery and modern day Pharaohs, oppressing and enslaving. People discussed their own migration stories -- ones that originated in families of Holocaust survivors and ones that were victimized by our broken and nativist immigration policies today.

As always, I added an olive to the seder plate to represent hopes for peace in the Middle East and around the world and an orange to represent what would have been unimaginable not too long ago — a table with women leaders and queer and trans people sharing the Seder meal* just as we are.

When everyone had finally arrived for the Seder, there were too many of us to fit in my small apartment -- and the family adjacent to me, also Seder guests that evening, instantly offered to let us use their more spacious dining area. The more able-bodied amongst us transported the meal and place settings to their home.

As always, I only wished I’d had more time to prepare. To have a ready to-go Sanctuary Homes Haggadah that guests could take home and contemplate. Instead, I distributed Hand in Hand’s Sanctuary Home campaign information and look forward to next year when my spatial and textual planning will be improved, and perhaps can share my work to make Passover a time to remember the importance of Sanctuary spaces with all of you!


*Thank you to the organization One Table who provided funds for our Friday evening / Shabbat dinner + Passover seder food!

Katie Savin lives in the Bay Area where she is a member of and the Disability Justice organizer for Hand in Hand, a PhD student in Social Welfare at UC Berkeley, a published author, and a devoted human to her service cat.