The Freedom Seder: Jewish people and equality for all

Passover is a Jewish holiday celebrated for eight days in the spring. This year’s celebration begins April 13. The following is excerpted from remarks made by the late Roy Rydell, a working-class hero, former merchant marine and a member of the New York State Communist Party, to the party’s annual Freedom Seder in 1998. The Communist Party of Illinois will hold a Freedom Seder on April 15. For reservations call: 773-446-9930.

The Seder is the traditional feast of the Jewish people, celebrating their liberation from slavery in Egypt. Tradition has it that when the Jews were freed from Egypt, the Red Sea parted and they crossed over out of Egypt. In the desert the Jewish people endured all the hardships of desert life that their Semitic brothers, the Arabs, still endure.

I’ve been in the Red Sea after leaving the Suez Canal on trips to India, and the people living in Red Sea ports like Aden, Djibouti and Port Sudan lead hard, tough lives. The Jewish people, and especially the Jewish workers, have always been attracted to the cause of socialism, because the socialist movement, and later the Communist Party, always stood for the equality of all peoples. These movements understood that the equality of all people was needed to build the unity which is so necessary to the building of socialism.

All the whitewash in the world cannot hide the oppression of the Jews of Russia along with other oppressed nationalities under the rule of the Romanovs. The Jewish people understood only too well the meaning of the expression “a prison of nations” when applied to Czarist Russia.

One of the highest achievements of the Russian Revolution was the Soviet Constitution, which guaranteed the equality of all the national groups which made up the Soviet Union, including the Jewish people. And it must be said that it was the Communist Red Army, which had in its ranks Jewish soldiers and officers, which defeated the Nazis and saved the Jewish people from total annihilation.

Here in our country the Jewish working men and women have made a big contribution to the trade union movement and to the Communist Party. For example, Clara Lemlich, speaking in Yiddish, called for a general strike of the Shirtwaist Makers Union in 1909 when she was still in her teens.

Rose Wortis, who lived from 1894 to 1958, was a pioneer in the garment workers union, the ILGWU, and a leader of the Communist Party. In 1922 she led the fight against sectarianism and dual unionism and for a policy of working in the old AFL. She was active in giving leadership to many strikes of the ILGWU.

Ethel Rosenberg and her husband Julius were executed for their political beliefs. Ben Gold, a leading Communist, was president of the Fur and Leather Workers Union. Irving Potash, another leader of the Furriers Union, was beaten many times by the thugs hired by the furrier bosses. He had the guts to stand up in open court and denounce the gangsters and goons of Murder Incorporated who tried to stop the fur workers from establishing rank-and-file control of their union.

Louis Weinstock of the Painters Union fought for Social Security and unemployment insurance. He often headed up the United May Day Committee, a tradition that is gaining momentum today.

During the civil rights movement, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were killed, as was their Black brother, James Chaney, in the state of Mississippi.

Mike Gold’s famous working-class novel “Jews Without Money” gave an accurate description of the life of the immigrant Jewish working class living on the Lower East Side of New York.

All these people made big contributions to the American workers’ struggle for a Socialist USA.