In the early 1980s, while speaking at Oberlin College Hillel, Susannah Heschel was introduced to an early feminist Haggadah that suggested adding a crust of bread on the Seder plate, as a sign of solidarity with Jewish lesbians (there's as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate). Heschel felt that to put bread on the Seder plate would be to accept that Jewish lesbians and gay men violate Judaism like chametz violates Passover. So, at her next Seder, she chose an orange as a symbol of inclusion of gays and lesbians and others who are marginalized within the Jewish community. She offered the orange as a symbol of the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life. This story evolved to the urban legend that a rabbi said to Heschel that a woman on the bimah is as out of place as an orange on a Seder plate. In remembrance, some began to place an orange on their Seder plate. We did as well for a few years.
Several years ago I had the opportunity to create my own Seder plate. Through the clay in my hands I had the awesome power to decide to stay with or break from tradition in a lasting way. Is there a way to break tradition yet honor it at the same time? My goal was to maintain the ideals and values that the generations before me held dear and interpret them in a way that demonstrates their transcendent nature; to clarify that they endure in each generation.
Martin Buber writes:
Tradition constitutes the noblest freedom for a generation that lives it meaningfully, but it is the most miserable slavery for habitual inheritors who merely accept it, tenaciously and complacently.
Balancing the desire to honor tradition or institute change is a dynamic struggle we face on regular basis particularly at momentous occasions.
You will find on our family plate there is a dish with the Hebrew word Makom meaning place. Hamakom, literally ‘the place’, is an ancient name for God. It is meant to represent the ideal that there is a place at our table, a prominent place, for all; that no group should be marginalized as there is a spark of God in each of us. It is an opening, an opportunity for conversation.
We have committed vegetarians in our household; the opportunity to omit a place for meat was promising. The mitzvah is to remember the sacrifice, so the Hebrew word Pesach (offering) is on the dish on which we place the roasted beet in remembrance of the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb.
The plates sit side by side; the inspiration and the interpretation.
- Esther Heimberg, Congregation Beth El of the Sudbury River Valley
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