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.RELATED:My Word: Clean thoughtsChosen Bites: Roasted Asparagus Lasagna
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
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
"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
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
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."