Home > Blog > Holidays > What’s On Your Seder Plate?
The centerpiece of our Passover table is the seder plate with its symbolic food items. As you plan for this year’s seder, perhaps you will create space on your table for some of these meaningful, contemporary additions that focus on social justice issues.
Including an orange on your seder plate is a way to acknowledge the role of people who feel marginalized within the Jewish community. Professor Susannah Heschel explains that in the 1980s, feminists at Oberlin College placed a crust of bread on the seder plate, saying, “There’s as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate.” Heschel adapted this practice, placing an orange on her family’s seder plate and asking each attendee to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit, and eat it as a gesture of solidarity with LGBTQ Jews and others who are marginalized within the Jewish community. They spit out the orange seeds, which were said to represent homophobia.
Miriam’s Cup, a special cup filled with water, celebrates Miriam’s role in our deliverance from slavery and her help as we wandered the desert. With this custom, we place an empty cup—Miriam’s Cup—alongside Elijah’s Cup on the seder table. At the seder, ask each person to pour a bit of water to help fill the cup. We pour water, specifically, because it plays a recurring role in the Exodus: the rescue of Moses from the Sea of Reeds, the first plague in Egypt when the water is turned to blood, the parting of the Red Sea, and so on. With this tradition, we recognize that women have always been, and continue to be, integral to the continued survival of the Jewish community. Miriam’s Cup honors the girls and women who are at the seder table and those who have touched our lives.
In 1991, Israel launched Operation Solomon, a covert plan to bring Ethiopian Jews to the Holy Land. When these famished, downtrodden Jews arrived in Israel, many were so hungry and ill that they were unable to digest substantial food. Israeli doctors fed these new immigrants simple boiled potatoes and rice until their systems could take more food. To commemorate this, we have potatoes to honor this wondrous Exodus in our own time, from Ethiopia to Israel.
The fair trade movement promotes economic partnerships based on equality, justice and sustainable environmental practices. We have a role in the process by making consumer choices that promote economic fairness for those who produce our products around the globe. Fair trade certified foods are grown under standards that prohibit the use of forced labor. They are included on the seder plate to remind us that although we escaped from slavery in Egypt, forced labor is still very much an issue today.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a widely acclaimed organization of farmworkers working to end abusive conditions in Florida’s tomato fields, which have long created fertile ground for modern-day slavery to flourish. Over the last decade, their Campaign for Fair Food—led by farmworkers and supported by people of conscience across the country—has brought about historic changes in the fields. We celebrate their victories while recognizing that much work is left to be done. With our own story in mind, we commit ourselves to working alongside them until they, too, can commemorate their liberation.
Since 2011, more than 6.6 million Syrian adults and children have been forced to flee their homes. Many have lost their lives during their exodus, including three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who, along with his brother Galip, five, and their mother Rihan, drowned trying to reach Turkey. The boys’ father Abdullah, who survived the harrowing journey, shared that his sons loved bananas, a luxury in their native, war-torn Syria. Every day after work, he would bring home a banana for his sons to share, a sweet sign of his enduring love for them. In a tradition introduced by Vancouver’s Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, we place a banana on our seder table and tell this story to remind us of Aylan, Galip, and children everywhere who are caught up in this modern-day exodus. May they be guarded and protected along their journey to safety, shielded by the love of their parents, watched over by God full of mercy and compassion.
The lock serves as a reminder of mass incarceration and an unjust criminal justice system which disproportionately targets the poor and people of color.
This is to honor our troops. The idea came from a sign at a drugstore that asked customers to consider buying bags of cashews to send to troops stationed in Iraq; an employee whose son was serving abroad explained that the salted cashews provided sustenance and hydration in Iraq’s desert climate.
High-fat, high-salt, processed foods like potato chips are less expensive and more plentiful in food deserts. We include them to remind us of the need for food justice to help low-income neighborhoods and their residents who do not have access to fresh, healthy food.
The olive branch has been the symbol of peace for millennia. We place an olive on the seder plate to remind us of the need for peace in Israel and to word toward peace where there has been strife.
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