5 ways to curate a meaningful progressive Passover Seder
The demand for justice runs through the entirety of the Jewish tradition.
– Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Passover, the holiday that celebrates our freedom from slavery in Egypt, is right around the corner beginning the evening of April 19th. It lasts eight days during which it is traditional to not eat leavened bread. Many people do a very serious deep cleaning of their homes to make sure there are no bread crumbs anywhere to be found. A perfect excuse for that spring cleaning you’ve been putting off, amiright?!
While some elements of the Passover story don’t quite sit right with me (Ehem, death of the firstborn), I still love the idea of a whole holiday that celebrates freedom. We kick off the holiday with the Passover seder –a ritual meal during which we read the story of the exodus from Egypt aloud from a book called the Haggadah (Hebrew for “telling”) and we perform rituals connected to various parts of the story.
I am always on a quest to make Jewish tradition as meaningful to our modern lives as possible.
Here are 5 ideas for adding a Progressive modern twist to your family’s seder:
Put an orange on the seder plate
Here’s the scoop: In the early 1980s, Susannah Heschel—a popular Jewish scholar was giving a talk. Reportedly, as she spoke, a male rabbi stood up and declared, "A woman belongs on the Bimah (‘stage’ of a synagogue) like an orange belongs on the seder plate." Whether or not this story is true is highly contested, but many families like to add an orange to the seder plate to celebrate the changing role of women in Judaism and in society as a whole.
”Promoting active liberty does not mean allowing the majority to run roughshod over minorities. It calls for taking special care that all groups have a chance to fully participate in society and the political process.”
-- Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Add a Discussion
We dip vegetables into salt water representing our tears during our time as slaves. Why not take this moment to discuss ways in which freedom is still lacking in the world? Whether you discuss social justice, human trafficking, poverty, women’s rights, this is a particularly good opportunity for a teachable moment.
“ I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own”
-- Audre Lorde
Add a Miriam’s Cup Ritual
Miriam is the Feminist hero in the Passover story, so why not add an extra special honor for her? As Bustle.com tells it:
“The legend of Miriam's Well goes like this: when the Israelites were slacking off and not following the Torah as they should be, their punishment was having water taken away. Moses was internally conflicted and prayed to God that he could find a way to stand by his duties and help his people at the same time. In a learning moment, God confided in him and gave him advice on being a leader to his flock. To make a long story short, he also struck a rock and made it flow with water for Moses and his people. Somehow, the magical well followed them on their 40 years of traveling and never let them down when it came to providing water. God credited the miracle to prophetess Miriam, and so the water source was aptly named Miriam's Well. Today, this history can be celebrated through group meditation and drinking from a vessel of water."
Four Cups, Four Immigration Stories
We need comprehensive immigration reform. Dr. King wouldn’t be pleased at all to know that there are millions of people living in the shadow, living in fear in places like Georgia and Alabama.
-- John Lewis
Our friends at HIAS Pennsylvania (HIAS is the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the organization that helped so many Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union including my parents and I, escape to America) compiled this great Seder addition that tells immigrant stories for every cup of wine you drink at the Seder (spoiler alert, the tradition is to drink four cups of wine or grape juice).
The National Council of Jewish Women put together this great guide of additional resources and ideas for a progressive Seder.
We are fortunate to live in a time and place where we enjoy possibly more freedom than ever before, and yet we still have a long way to go. For your April Passover gift, I made you something that I hope will encourage your guests to both celebrate their freedom and meditate on their commitment to securing freedom for all people. Click here to get yours.
Anna: I love your page, but I have one correction. Susannah Heschel has long debunked the mistaken urban myth that she started the orange on the Seder plate as a feminist symbol (notwithstanding the verbatim quote you cite that appears in all such accounts). She’s written that she popularized this practice (which she first encountered at a student Seder at Oberlin College) as a symbol that the Jewish community needs to be more inclusive of the Jewish LGBTQ community. There are numerous accounts of this, with meaningful insights about the practice, e.g., https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/an-orange-on-the-seder-plate/ and https://reformjudaism.org/practice/ask-rabbi/why-do-some-people-include-orange-seder-plate. But best are the comments from Prof. Heschel herself, at https://www.haggadot.com/clip/susannah-heschel-explains-orange.
Wishing you a chag sameach -
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