Radically Different: My First Time At a Yiddishist “Third Seder”

Tsuzamen, lomir ontsinden di likht fun farshtendlikhkayt un fun libe.

So began the Third Seder (Drider Seder) at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture in Vancouver, BC, where I recently became a teacher, on April 8. All together, let us join in lighting the candles in honour of understanding and love.

This was my first time at a Third Seder, which usually takes place during the intermediate days of Passover, and was popularized in New York by the Workmen’s Circle (Der Arbeiter Ring). (The Workmen’s Circle’s Yiddish-language Hagodeh is still used and influenced Peretz’s version). I have attended seders without Haggadahs, Kabbalistic seders, Hasidic seders, Freedom seders, Interfaith seders and mainstream milquetoast progressive-light seders, but never a Yiddishist drider seder.

Lomir alle in eynem, in eynem, we sang, Come together as one.

Dem Peysakh m’kabel ponim zayn, lomir alle in eynem, trinken a glezeleh vayn. To welcome the presence of Passover, come together as one, drink a glass of wine.

The first cup of the seder was dedicated to Miriam, one of the increasingly common new symbols incorporated by many in the last few decades into their seders. The orange (affirming women’s rightful role as leaders in the community) and the fig (affirming Israeli-Palestinian solidarity) were both present, for instance.

I had experienced those things before, but what really struck me at this seder was the Jewish Socialist background and the emphasis on the one hand on remembering and celebrating Jewish resistance fighters, and on the other hand the focus on universalist visions of social justice which dominated the seder, taking a truly equal seat to the Judeocentric narrative.

When it came time to take a drop of wine for the ten plagues, the plague recited were modern and universal:

War … Pollution … Hunger … Exploitation … Bigotry … Injustice … Disease … Tyranny … Ignorance … Poverty

On the other hand, two of the most stirring moment of the Seder were very Jewish. The first was a Holocaust memorial ceremony, which I had never experienced in a seder and which, admittedly somewhat to my surprise, I found moving and appropriate. The second was a celebration of the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto, consisting of readings and a recital of the anthem of the Jewish resistance:  Zog Nit Keyn Mol, which I had, by chance, just read about in Paul Goldberg’s work of historical fiction The Yid:

Never say you’re on the last road,

though leaden skies hide days of blue—

Our longed-for hour will come;

our steps will be a drumbeat: WE ARE HERE!

The last verse was bit of a shock to my peaceful Jewish diasporic sensibilities:

This song is written with blood, not with lead;

it’s no little song of a bird on the wing.

This one a people between crumbling walls

sang with guns in their hands.

This was not my Baba’s seder, though maybe it was my Zaida’s (he abandoned his Orthodox faith to become a socialist as a teenager, later running away from home to join the Red Army).

Listening to the Yiddish songs and feeling the pulse of decades of Jewish social idealism and left-wing politics was very heimische for me, and felt like a different way to find myself in the stream of Jewish history then I’m used to.

I liked it.

For more on the Third Seder tradition, see here and here.