The Crowded Seder Plate

Recently I have noticed a real uptick in the number of items finding their way into the Passover Seder for contemporary Jews.  Last year I wrote about the orange, a symbol originally meant to remind us of the LGBT community's rightful place in Klal Yisrael, which quickly morphed into being about women, with its own apocryphal story.  We had already seen the Kos Miriam, Miriam's cup come to the table to remind us of her role in the redemption of the people. But lately we see more and more produce finding its way to the table.  Olives, a symbol not only of peace but a staple in the Middle East is said to be a symbol of hope for the end of the Arab/Israeli conflict. A few days ago I saw something from an influential colleague Amichai Lau Levi, (as Hadassah Gross) he requests we add an apple to the table to remind us being a good consumers (honestly I can't tell if Amichai is being serious here and am afraid to ask) and today I got a contact with someone asking for a tomato to be included to remind us of modern day slavery.

One could ask what it happening to us as a people.  We can think of the song Tradition, from Fiddler which pleads we do things because that is the way they have always been done.  That would be a wrong read of both the Seder and the development of what it means to be Jewish.  Tradition, which is not only something we receive from our parents but the gift we give our children, is and should be influenced by every generation.  In the Seder that has clearly been the case.  Look at any 3 Haggadot (Prayer book for the Seder) in any Jewish bookstore and you will see the influence of various times on the service. Things entered and exited over the history and of course important events in the lives of the Jewish people found a reminder and a home in meal.  (For example many Haggadot written after 1960 reference the Shoah [the Holocaust]).  Even I have rewritten the section of the service as we begin to close the evening and invite Elijah the Prophet into the home.  While some writers have eliminated the words from the Bible that include a call for God to "Pour out your wrath on those who do not believe".  I explore that section in context of history but have rewritten it as a call for a true multi-faith expression asking God to pour out God's love to all who seek Godness.

But I wonder about all these new things becoming so quickly institutionalized and will they in fact lose their meaning and/or take away from the meaning of the Seder historically.  The orange is a perfect example of how a meaningful act can be so easily be changed to do exactly what it was placed on the Seder plate to avoid.  The orange evolved from an attempt for a group of lesbian students to create their own Seder.  They put a crust of bread on the seder plate as a powerful message that they were seen as having no place in Jewish life.  Susannah Heschel suggested that gays and lesbians to not violate the community of Judaism as the bread would a Seder but add something different and suggested the orange, including creating a ritual of spitting out the orange's bitter seeds as a way of symbolically spitting out the bigotry and hate.  In less than 10 years the story was changed that a male rabbi was talking about women in the Rabbinate being like bread on the Seder plate and the orange became a symbol of women's roles in Judaism, completely disappearing the importance of the symbol to gays and lesbians.

I don't want to argue that the Seder can't be changed, modified, and added to, in fact I encourage it.  But there has to be meaning for you.  Being trendy about adding something because a famous Rabbi or your local cool Education Director did it doesn't make the ritual meaningful.  There is a reason we do the Seder in the home, the Seder is yours.  There are rituals far and wide that fit neatly into family Seders.  But in the end the ritual is empty without a clear meaning.  Add more fruits to your seder if you will, ask the questions that prompt us to think beyond ourselves, but do it with great concern and kavannah (intention).  Don't do it to be cool or because that is how it has to be done.  It doesn't.  Remember, we are all suppose to see ourselves as having personally come out of Mitzraim, what is your Mitzraim?

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