This Passover, I’m placing a small dish of sunflower seeds on my seder plate to show my solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Sunflowers are the national flower of Ukraine, and have become a potent symbol of resistance to the recent Russian military invasion. They have been grown in Ukraine since the 18th Century and have been associated with Ukrainian national identity since the early 19th Century. They symbolize unity, life and well-being, and can be seen across the countryside.
After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, sunflowers were widely grown in the area to help remove radiation contaminants from the soil. And in 1996, sunflowers were planted in celebration of Ukraine’s nuclear disarmament.
Two of my great-grandparents were born in western Ukraine, in what was then known as the Pale of Settlement. Conjured in stories as the family patriarch, my Hebrew name (Moriah) is in memory of my great-grandfather, Max (Mordechai). He was born in 1886 in Husyatyn and emigrated to the Boston area in the early 1900s.
In 2005, I made the journey to the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa as part of a community exchange trip for my graduate studies. At the time, I did not feel a strong connection to this area as the land of my ancestors. But the foreignness of the city was erased by the friendliness of the people we met. From orphanages to JCCs to the apartments of homebound elderly, everyone’s love of their city and their community overflowed.
Though we did not remain in touch, I can easily imagine these people embodying the resistance to an authoritarian ruler that is at the core of the Passover story. I can picture them on the famous Potemkin Steps on the coast of the Black Sea. In their hands are sunflower seeds.
And so, with a dish of these powerful seeds on my seder table, I will say a blessing of peace and protection for them, for my great-grandparents and for all the brave people of Ukraine.
Rebecca Missel is the Director of Partnerships and Content at Haggadot.com
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