Less than a week before Passover, more than 70 Jewish and labor leaders from throughout the state joined together at Ahavas Sholom for the 11th New Jersey Labor Seder.
Cosponsored by the Community Relations Committee of MetroWest NJ and the Jewish Labor Committee, the seder brings together trade union and Jewish community representatives, public officials, and others “to remind us that in times of adversity, extraordinary victories have been achieved by ordinary working men and women who join together to work for justice and to secure better lives in their workplaces and in their communities,” according to organizers.
The CRC is the advocacy arm of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
Ahavas Sholom’s Rabbi Simon Rosenbach and congregants welcomed the celebrants to the synagogue — one of the oldest and the last functioning in Newark — April 13 for the evening of storytelling and relationship building.
Kevin Brown, a JLC member and area director of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, and CRC chair David Lentz served as co-leaders of the seder. Participants, from youngsters to seniors, read aloud excerpts from the specially prepared Haggada.
Each of the traditional four cups of wine was dedicated to a current issue. Charles Wowakench, president of the NJ State AFL-CIO, raised the first cup to the historical right of collective bargaining, which he equated with free speech and freedom of association.
JLC executive director Martin Schwartz dedicated the second cup to the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy, and to the Wolf Muslin Factory fire in Newark and the ongoing need to fight for decent working conditions.
For the third cup, Mehdi Eliefifi, a business consultant and native of Egypt, talked about the current unrest in north Africa, focusing on the uprising earlier this year to overthrow “today’s Pharaoh” in his native country.
Lentz discussed the human rights situation in Iran, especially the mistreatment and imprisonment of trade unionists, as well as the threat of Iran’s potential nuclear capability as the focus of the fourth cup.
Labor lawyer Bennet Zurofsky and two other members of the Solidarity Singers of the New Jersey Industrial Union Council performed Ruth Rubin’s “Ballad of the Triangle Fire.”
In addition to JLC national and local staff and Ahavas Sholom congregants, attendees included Laurel Brennan, secretary-treasurer of NJ State AFL-CIO; Ruth Cole and Jacob Toporek, president and executive director, respectively, of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations; State Assemblyman and Essex-West Hudson Labor Council president Thomas Giblin; Hudson County Central Labor Council president Peter Busacca; Max Kleinman, executive vice president of UJC MetroWest NJ; and Gary H. Altman, director of the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Also participating were academics from Rutgers Law School and the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, congregants of Bnai Keshet in Montclair, lay leaders of area Jewish community relations councils, and representatives of a number of area unions, including Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers; United Food and Commercial Workers; the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; and Communications Workers of America.
“Partnership has always been a theme of our Labor Seders,” said Schwartz. “This year, we had an evening not only of relating the story of the Exodus from Egypt, but more recent struggles for freedom, dignity, and respect. The Exodus story inspired generations of labor, civil rights, and other American social justice advocates.”