The Rebbetzin Hadassah Gross – the female alter-ego of rabbi-in-training Amichai Lau-Lavie – has an important message for the public: This Passover, put an apple on your Seder plate.
A would-be rabbi meting out religious advice for the holiday in drag? More on that later. But why an apple? Jewish tradition stipulates that the plate placed at the center of the table on Passover night contain maror
(bitter herbs), haroset
(a mix of chopped fruits and nuts), karpas
(a vegetable, often parsley), z’roa
(usually a roasted chicken wing) and an egg. Each food symbolizes a different part of the story of the Jews’ escape from servitude in Egypt.
The addition of an apple, explains Lau-Lavie as Gross in a video on the Web, is an allusion to Apple Inc., the technology giant that has recently been accused of violating workers’ rights at its factories in China.
“Darlings,” says the rebbetzin, who is a parody of a yiddishe mama, complete with heavy makeup, an oversized pearl necklace and a gaudy outfit, “I want you to put an apple on the Seder plate because there is a company that is making people work very long hours, very little money, jumping out of windows, unhappy, to make the things that we love.”
The character adds: “Ask how are we consuming things and letting slavery happen. Are we part of the solution, or are we part of the problem?” In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Lau-Lavie – who is studying for the rabbinate at Conservative Judaism’s Jewish Theological Seminary in New York – said criticism from Gross (he always refers to his alter-ego in the third person) was not aimed directly against the company famous for innovative gadgets like iPhones and iPads, because it had admitted mistakes and vowed to prevent them from recurring. Rather, he said, the apple on the Seder plate is meant to raise general awareness in Jewish households to the slave-like conditions under which many of the products on which we rely are produced.
“We need symbols in life,” he said. “In recent months, Apple has become a symbol of protest because it is one of the biggest and richest conglomerates in the world and is so beloved by the public.
The apple on the plate is both to remind us of the problems that exist, and that somebody is taking care of them.”
Lau-Lavie, who is the nephew of former chief rabbi and Holocaust survivor Yisrael Meir Lau, has often employed Gross as a way of commenting on contemporary Jewish issues in a humorous way. Last year he considered protesting gender segregation on public transportation in Israel by boarding a segregated bus as Gross and insisting on sitting in the seats designated for men.
Following Gross’s Passover advice this year, though, might make the Seder plate a little crowded. Some adherents of progressive Judaism already add an orange to the packed plate as a symbol of including women, gays and lesbians.
“There’s no need to worry,” said Lau-Lavie,” there’s room on the plate for both.”