Each year in our Passover Haggadah, we read, “In every generation we are obligated to see ourselves as people who came out of Egypt.”
This oft-quoted statement can mean many things, but at its core it reminds us that each of us should develop a meaningful personal connection to the message of Passover. The rituals of the Passover seder can seem intimidating, but the intimacy of a family setting allows us opportunity to search for and seek meaning in this celebration of liberation and survival.
Recently, I led a Passover workshop at the Montebello Jewish Center, sponsored by our sisterhood. At this workshop, I urged everyone to augment their seders with new rituals. There are so many new songs and readings that can be found online and in books, and many of them can enliven any seder. In addition, there are a plethora of activities and strategies people can bring to their celebrations.
One of the many new rituals that has become popular in many homes is the presence of an orange on the seder plate. The story behind it is that someone once said that a woman belongs on the bimah as much as an orange belongs on a seder plate. The story is apocryphal, but the symbolism is meaningful. An orange on a seder plate is acknowledgement of the alienation many people felt from our tradition. By putting an orange on our plates, we are making a symbolic statement that no one who wants to be part of our people should see themselves as an outsider in our communities.
In our discussion, I mentioned that there are many fissures in our world. Some people have used the seder plate as a platform to highlight these fractures, and they use the holiday of Passover as motivation to help heal our world. People have used a banana to highlight the plight of refugees. Others have used cashews to remind us of our need to support our troops, who are continuing to battle extremism around the world. I urged everyone to think of what redemption meant to them this year, living as we are in a world of uncertainty, fear, and political division.
One of the members of the synagogue made a suggestion. In light of my comment of political division, she suggested that we place a plum on the seder plate this year. In a world where too often people see a red America and a blue America, a purple plum should remind us that there is only one America — purple, of course, is the combination of red and blue.
This year there will be a purple plum on my seder plate, somewhere near the shank bone and the roasted egg.
Whether you chose a plum or an orange or something else to put on your seder plate, I encourage everyone this year to ask what Passover means to you, and take a few moments to share that at your Passover seder.
Joshua S. Finkelstein is the rabbi of the Montebello Jewish Center in Suffern.