A group of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine students planned and organized the school’s annual Freedom Seder, held on March 23.
Freedom Seders intertwine the archetypal story of the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in ancient Egypt with more modern liberation struggles.
At Geisinger Commonwealth, the student organizers invited the entire School of Medicine community to offer a retelling of a contemporary struggle. Some modern-day plagues discussed at the Freedom Seder included racism, technology addiction, sexism, classism, ableism, apathy, xenophobia, lifestyle illnesses, anti-Semitism, environmental destruction and sexual discrimination.
Organizers of the event were:
- Members of the Jewish Medical Student Association (JMSA):
- Leah Osnis
- Dan Kratovil
- Mindy Gruzin
- Members of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA):
- Oluwaseyi Olulana
- Momoh Osilama
- Gabriela Rodriguez
- Members of the Association of Multicultural Students in Medicine (AMSM):
- Richard Sofoluke
- Naomi Francois, who also sang, “We Shall Overcome”
- Stephanie Delma
- A student reflection was offered by Ebuwa Ighodaro
- Kaiya Flemons sang the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”
Steven J. Scheinman, MD, GCSOM president and dean, gave the welcome address and GCSOM Alumni, Dr. Sam Mellits, Class of 2020, provided some reflections on starting the Freedom Seder program at GCSOM in 2018.
“I attended my first Freedom Seder as an MBS student in March of 2019. It was one of my many favorite events organized by our student groups,” said Oluwaseyi Olulana, president of GCSOM’s SNMA chapter. “When I was accepted into the MD Class of 2024, I sent a message to Dr. Sam Mellits about my acceptance and promised to help organize the Freedom Seder in 2021 since it had been cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic. Thanks to a lot of collaboration and co-planning among student groups, we were able to bring this program back to our school. It was a beautiful event that was filled with knowledge, wisdom, reflection and excellent singing. The reflections were sobering, and they provided an opportunity to understand the past, analyze the present, and hope for a better future where we can share compassion, gratitude and humility with our neighbors.”
Freedom Seder in 1969 was the brainchild of Rabbi Arthur Waskow. In his memoir of its founding, Rabbi Waskow, then a civil rights activist, said his efforts to make the Passover Seder speak to deep concerns of the modern world “became sharper and more urgent in 1968, when the Passover came one bare week after the murder of Martin Luther King . . . And then we realized that in 1969, the third night of Passover, April 4, would be the first anniversary of King's death.”
“Who in those days could forget that the prophet King had remembered Moses?” Rabbi Waskow asked. His idea was to meld the traditional retelling of the Exodus story and its celebration of freedom with a telling of more modern-day forms of oppression. Since 1969, Freedom Seders have spoken to many movements for freedom, from feminism and LGBTQ rights to environmental activism.