Mishegoss – Seder Social Causes
Whether it is a exquisite family heirloom or a paper plate, the Seder plate is the focus of your Passover activities. A traditional seder plate contains a shank bone (zeroa), egg (beitzah), bitter herbs (maror), vegetable (karpas) and haroset. Many families also add another kind of bitter green (hazeret). Over the years families have added items to the seder plate and here are some things that you may see this holiday.
Dr. Susannah Heshel, Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College and daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel was the first to suggest putting an orange on the seder plate. In her own words from a 2013 The Daily Jewish Forward article she wrote, “At an early point in the Seder, when stomachs were starting to growl, I asked each person to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit and eat the segment in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews and of widows, orphans, Jews who are adopted and all others who sometimes feel marginalized in the Jewish community.
When we eat that orange segment, we spit out the seeds to repudiate homophobia and we recognize that in a whole orange, each segment sticks together. Oranges are sweet and juicy and remind us of the fruitfulness of gay and lesbian Jews and of the homosociality that has been such an important part of Jewish experience, whether of men in yeshivas or of women in the Ezrat Nashim.”
Next to Elijah’s cup you may add Miriam’s Cup. The practice was founded in Boston during a Rosh Chodesh group in 1989 to honor the stories and contributions of women in Jewish tradition. Miriam’s cup is filled with water to symbolize Miram’s well which was the source of water for the Israelites in the desert.
In Exodus 15:20 the Torah describes her as a prophet, as she took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing.
There a few theories on how the beet made it onto the seder plate but the most common answer is that for vegetarians, beets were the best replacement for the zeroa (Shank bone). Some people cite Pesachim 114b as justification for using a beet. In 1973 printed in the Jewish Catalog it states that “it is halakhically acceptable to use a broiled beet as a replacement.”
The Virtual Fair Trade Chocolate at Seder campaign encourages placing some cocoa beans on the Passover seder plate to raise awareness of child slavery in the chocolate industry. When explaining the cocoa on the Seder plate, Rabbi Menachem Creditor’s prayer could be cited: “This is a symbol of potential freedom, a realization that foods that give me delight can be made without child labor.”
In 2008, Jewish Voice for Peace promoted putting an olive on the seder plate as part of its Trees of Reconciliation project, which sought to donate 3,000 olive saplings to Palestinian farmers. The Shalom Center’s 2009 Haggadah asked, “Why this olive? Because for millennia the olive branch has been the symbol of peace, and we seek to make peace where there has been war.”
Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael suggests this prickly vegetable with the soft heart for the interfaith-friendly seder plate. “Like the artichoke, which has thistles protecting its heart, the Jewish people have been thorny about this question of interfaith marriage. Let this artichoke on the Seder plate tonight stand for the wisdom of G-d’s creation in making the Jewish people a population able to absorb many elements and cultures throughout the centuries – yet still remain Jewish.”
In 2010, The Progressive Jewish Alliance created a Food Desert Seder Plate, designed to highlight the lack of access to fresh, healthy food in many low-income neighborhoods. The seder plate replaced all of the traditional seder items with spoiled produce or low nutrition items. These symbolic items remind us the need for food justice to help low-income neighborhoods gain access to fresh healthy food.
Operation Solomon was launched in 1991 to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel. When they made it to Israel the Ethiopians were so hungry and ill that they were only able to eat simple foods. Israeli doctors fed them boiled potatoes and rice until they could eat more substantial foods. To celebrate their freedom, some families add a potato to their table to honor an exodus in our lifetime.