Jewish community, union leaders share ideals at Labor Seder

Close to 50 labor union leaders, members of the Jewish community, and community organizers “broke matza” together at the 14th annual New Jersey Labor Seder, held April 18 at the Cooperman JCC in West Orange. 

Sponsored by the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and the Jewish Labor Committee, the seder was cosponsored by the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations and the NJ Council of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union.

CRC member Kevin Brown, 32BJ vice president and the union’s NJ state director, guided the participants through a Haggada prepared by the JLC, which, he said, “sheds light not only on the struggle of the ancient Israelites for freedom and dignity, but also as a means of exploring the dignity of work and workers’ rights, welcoming the stranger, and social justice.”

“We look forward to continuing to work together on critical issues like racial injustice, hunger, and income inequality so we can help uplift communities and live up to our duty to tikun olam — heal the world,” said Brown. 

Mark Dunec, chair of the CRC’s Community Partnership Committee, said the seder is an “opportunity for labor and Jewish community leaders to build bridges, learn about current workers’ struggles in New Jersey, discuss the need of unity around meaningful campaigns for social justice…, and rejoice with us in the joyful holiday of Passover.” 

Each of the traditional four cups of wine plus Miriam’s cup touched on an issue of concern to organized labor and/or the Jewish community, presented by guest speakers: 

Analilia Mejia, executive director of the Working Families Alliance, spoke about racial and criminal justice; Lizette Delgado-Polanco, vice-chair of the NJ State Democratic Committee and executive director of the SEIU NJ Council, increasing the minimum wage to $15 as a way to raise families out of poverty; Holocaust survivor Ruth Ravina, the important role JLC played in helping resettle survivors; Samuel Chu of MAZON: the Jewish Response to Hunger, alleviating hunger in New Jersey; and Jeff Tittel, director of the NJ chapter of the Sierra Club, the problem of pollutants in municipal water systems.

Ravina was a hidden child who survived internment in three concentration camps. She thanked the JLC for providing funds after the war to enable her mother to operate a soup kitchen in Lodz, Poland. Ravina showed a photograph of a ceremony in which her mother was honored by the JLC soon after her arrival in the United States in 1951. 

Luz Garate, 32BJ SEIU NJ assistant district leader, who was born in Ecuador, gave details about the recent devastating earthquake in her native country.

“It was gratifying to celebrate the ideals of freedom and service with our sisters and brothers at the Jewish community’s Passover celebration,” said Delgado-Polanco. “I believe it is important to pause and reflect as we continue our long and historic fight together to make a difference for our workers on a number of fronts, including low wages.”

“The road to justice is a long one,” said Mejia, “but if we travel that road together, I am confident we can achieve our goals to combat structural and systemic racism and income inequality so America lives up to its promise to be a land of opportunity for all.”

New Jersey Jewish News | May 4, 2016