The traditional Seder plate contains an egg, shank bone, karpas, charoset and maror. Some also make room for the hazeret, another kind of bitter green.
But recently other fruits and vegetables have showed up on the plate, representing a variety of causes from solidarity with oppressed Jewish communities to welcoming the intermarried.
First was the orange, which has come to symbolize the power of Jewish women — female rabbis, the Jewish midwives in the Exodus story, gender-neutral language in prayerbooks, that sort of thing.
But when Jewish Studies professor Susannah Heschel first plunked down a tangerine on her Seder plate in the early 1980s, it was in the name of gay and lesbian inclusion, as she explains in this essay on Miriam’s Cup .
During the first part of the Seder, I asked everyone to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit, and eat it as a gesture of solidarity with Jewish lesbians and gay men, and others who are marginalized within the Jewish community…In addition, each orange segment had a few seeds that had to be spit out – a gesture of spitting out, repudiating the homophobia that poisons too many Jews.
A few years ago, olives started showing up as a call for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
This can take kumbaya form, as in the Shalom Center’s“Passover of Peace: A Seder for the children of Abraham, Hagar and Sarah."
Or it can have a more activist bent. In 2008, Jewish Voice for Peace promoted putting an olive on the Seder plate as part of its “Trees of Reconciliation” project to donate 3,000 olive saplings to Palestinian farmers.
The following spring, the Shalom Center raised JVP a fruit, suggesting folks include both an olive and an orange in its 2009 "Freedom Seder for the Earth."
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.Why this orange? Because in olden days there was no orange on the Seder Plate and it was said that outsiders—gay men and lesbians, transgendered people, converts, those who lack some important ability or skill, the unlearned—all these no more belonged in the community than an orange belongs upon the Seder plate. So we place an orange to say firmly, All these belong in our communities.
How about an artichoke? In an essay on interfaithfamily.com, 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 God’s creation in making the Jewish people a population able to absorb many elements and cultures throughout the centuries–yet still remain Jewish.
Also on interfaithfamily.com, Jim Keen proposed a kiwi instead of an artichoke, but that doesn’t seem to have caught on.
There are always one-off experiments, such as Rabbi Paul Kipnes in southern California who four years ago put a football, a history book and a corkscrew on his Seder plate. You’ll have to check out this Daily News piece by Brad Greenberg for the full scoop.
Hard to top, however, is the Progressive Jewish Alliance, which last year put together a “Food Desert Seder Plate” that banished the original arrangement altogether, replacing it with items symbolizing the lack of access to fresh, healthy food in many low-income neighborhoods (see photo above).
A rotten piece of lettuce illustrates that inner-city grocery stores often carry only spoiled produce. A potato chip instead of the boiled potato in the “karpas” space indicates that high-fat potato chips are cheaper and easier to find than fresh potatoes.
On the food desert seder plate, there is no egg. Fresh eggs are one of the luxuries lacking in these neighborhoods.