This may take up to thirty seconds.
1. What do you consider your “promised land,” or heaven on earth?
2. In Hebrew, the word for Egypt is “Mitzraim,” which literally means “narrow place.” What is one way that you wish for our society to be more open?
3. Moses is considered one of the greatest leaders in our history — he is described as being smart, courageous, selfless and kind. Which of today’s leaders inspires you in a similar way?
4. Miriam was a prophetess and the sister of Moses who, after crossing the Red Sea, led the women in song and dance with tambourines. She is described as being courageous, confident, insightful and nurturing. Which musician or artist today inspires you in a similar way?
5. More recent and ongoing struggles for freedom include civil rights, GLBTQ equality, and women’s rights. Who is someone involved in this work that you admire?
6. Is there someone — or multiple people — in your family’s history who made their own journey to freedom?
7. Freedom is a central theme of Passover. When in your life have you felt most free?
8. If you could write an 11th commandment, what would it be?
9. What’s the longest journey you have ever taken?
10. How many non-food uses for matzah can you think of? Discuss!
11. Let’s say you are an Israelite packing for 40 years in the desert. What three modern items would you want to bring?
12. The Haggadah says that in every generation of Jewish history enemies have tried to eliminate us. What are the biggest threats you see to Judaism today?
13. The Passover seder format encourages us to ask as many questions as we can. What questions has Judaism encouraged you to ask?
14. Israel is central to the Passover seder. Do you think modern Israel is central to Jewish life? Why or why not?
15. The manna in the desert had a taste that matched the desire of each individual who ate it. For you, what would that taste be? Why?
16. Let’s say you had to swim across the Red Sea, and it could be made of anything except water. What would you want it to be?
17. If the prophet Elijah walked through the door and sat down at your table, what’s the first thing you would ask him?
18. Afikoman means “dessert” in Greek. If you could only eat one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?
19. What is something you wish to cleanse yourself of this year? A bad habit? An obsession or addiction?
20. The word “seder” means “order.” How do you maintain order in your life?
Download the PDF here: https://www.jewishboston.com/20-table-topics-for-your-passover-seder/
But why is there an orange and a tomato on the seder plate? This is not traditional for Passover.
Tomato - This tomato brings our attention to the oppression and liberation of farmworkers who harvest fruits and vegetables here in the United States. And it reminds of us of our power to help create justice. On this night when we remember the Jewish journey from slavery to freedom, we remember numerous cases of modern slavery that exist. For example, the reported use of enslaved labor in Florida's tomato industry. There have been reports of workers also facing abusive working conditions, such as wage theft, harassment, exposure to dangerous pesticides, or poverty level wages that have not changed for more than 30 years.
But a transformation is underway. Since 1993, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a farmworker organization, has been organizing for justice in the fields. Together with other organizations, they have convinced 11 major corporations, such as McDonald’s and Trader Joe’s, to join the Fair Food Program, a historic partnership between workers, growers and corporations. We can work to help convince other businesses to join this program.
Orange - The orange on the Seder plate has come to symbolize full inclusion in modern day Judaism for those who were traditionally not seen as full participants or leaders in Jewish life and traditions, especially women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. The common tale was that a man once said that women don’t belong leading aspects of worship in Judaism by saying “A woman on the bimah is like an orange on the Seder plate.” (The bimah is a podium where people stand to read from the “Torah”, as Jews call the Old Testament of the Bible.) - both things that don't belong. Feminists (people believing in gender equality) responded by celebrating the orange, by placing it in the center the Seder plate showing that since women belonged on the bima, so must an orange on the Seder plate. There was a simliar history to using orange to symbolize LGBTQ inclusion in Judasim. People place an orange on Seder plate to honor and symbolize the struggle for freedom faced by LGBTQ people. For those of us who are part of the LGBTQ community here at our Seder, it makes us feel good to be acknowledged and included, especially when we were not during many times of history, and still today in many places.
For so many of us, the Seder is a ritual to ‘get through.’ There is someone rushing through the words, another person checking the clock, another drooling over the smells from the kitchen. What if as the seder unfolds, we knew we could look forward to an opportunity for pause and reflection? Using the prompts below, transform your seder table into a circle of balance.
Note: These exercises can either make up a complete ‘mindfulness seder’, or you can choose one or more to incorporate into a seder you are leading or attending.
Kadeish קדש – recital of Kiddush blessing and drinking of the first cup of wine
As you begin the seder, there is often a great deal of anticipation. Looking forward to that first sip of wine, taste of matza, warm soup…instead of counting how many pages to the next section, focus in on each step of this ritual. One method is to narrate (either out loud or in your mind) each step as objectively as possible: “I am holding the glass. I am opening the wine. I am pouring the wine. I am holding up the glass. [say blessing] I am sipping the wine. I am swallowing the wine.” Notice what arises in this practice - is it calm and presence, or more agitation or anticipation? Bonus: try it for each of the 4 cups and see how it changes.
Urchatz ורחץ – the washing of the hands
Water is life and our hands are purified by the waters. Instead of washing and then rushing to dry them off, hold your wet hands open on your lap or on the edge of the table. Sit in silence or quiet whispers as you watch and feel the water evaporating. Take bets on when they will be fully dry or have a contest who can go the longest without drying them on the closest napkin.
Karpas כרפס – dipping of the karpas in salt water
Reciting blessings over our food is a chance to slow down and connect to the source of our nourishment. Assemble platters of three or more vegetables for each guest, or invite each guest to assemble mini platters at their seat after passing around a tray of vegetables. Choosing one item at a time, hold it in the air with your focus on the vegetable. What’s did it look like while in the ground? (You may wish to provide photos - I’m especially fond of photos of potato plants!) Close your eyes and imagine the trip from the ground to the store to your plate. Then say the blessing.
Yachatz יחץ – breaking the middle matza
The breaking of the matza should be done in silence. As you prepare for the break, count three long breaths with eyes open and focus on the matza, held high for all to see. Listen closely to the sound of the matza breaking. At this moment, we hold the paradox of wholeness and brokenness; the matza is both the bread of our affliction and the bread of freedom. Take three more deep breaths. Optional: Share with someone next to you or the whole table - what paradoxes in your life are you sitting with today?
Maggid מגיד – retelling the Passover story, including the recital of "the four questions" and drinking of the second cup of wine
Dayeinu: What in our lives do we take for granted, but may actually be enough for us? Share with someone next to you or the entire table. After each person shares, respond: Dayeinu!
Rachtzah רחצה – second washing of the hands
So much of the seder is talking and listening. Finally, here’s a part that has almost no talking. After you say the hand washing blessing, choose a niggun (simple wordless melody) that you and your guests can carry until everyone has finished washing. Use eye contact and the raising of the matza for motzi to signal the end of the blessing.
Motzi Matza מוציא מצה – blessing before eating matzo
The first bit of matza is always the driest. One is truly meant to savor that bite and not mix with any other dips or spreads. As you begin to munch on the first bit, notice what thoughts, feelings, and sensations arise. Joy, dryness, satiation...what else? Allow these to come and go without judgement until your serving of matza is consumed.
Maror מרור – eating of the maror
The embodied practice of purposely consuming maror has deep symbolism. Dipping ¾ ounces of maror into charoset, which is sweet, brings healing and alignment as we approach the formal meal.
Koreich כורך – eating of a sandwich made of matzah and maror
Koreich is a memory sandwich. Since we no longer slaughter a lamb for the paschal sacrifice, there is only maror on our matzo sandwich. Though the pesach sacrifice is primarily represented with the zroa, shankbone, on the seder plate, our memory sandwich is the key moment of the seder to recall this sacrifice. Though we do not recite an additional blessing for this sandwich, as we chew, we recline and recall the communal rite of the shared roasted lamb.
The moment we consume this sandwich, we are simultaneous recalling the Pesach offering, both from Temple times and from our last night in Egypt. What makes this symbol so powerful is that we have the capacity to recall two moments in history simultaneously:
The word “Pesach” is literally the name of this sacrifice, which was done in memory of the one performed in Egypt on the night of the 10th plague when they put animal blood on the doorposts The Torah commandment to consume the offering on the Passover holiday comes from Exodus 12:8: “They shall eat the flesh that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs.” and then in verse 14: “This day shall be to you one of remembrance: you shall celebrate it as a festival…” (See Exodus 12:3-14 for the full section).
In Temple times, there were many key rituals regarding a sacrificed lamb or goat shared amongst family. In Exodus 12:3 we read “שֶׂ֥ה לַבָּֽיִת - a lamb per household.” One could not observe this ritual one their own - usually, families would combine with neighbors to afford a high quality lamb to share on the holiday.
Shulchan oreich שלחן עורך – lit. "set table"—the serving of the holiday meal
Many seder meals begin with a spherical object, such as an egg, gefilte fish, or matza ball. Take a moment to examine this round food item, with no beginning and no ending. You have made it to the midpoint of the seder; and yet, this round item reminds us there is no beginning and no end. We are fully redeemed and we are still waiting to be redeemed. Turn over the item again, then bring it to your mouth for the first bite.
Tzafun צפון – eating of the afikoman
Walking meditation: And opportunity to get out our seats and wander. Perform the search in silence. Take your steps slowly and carefully. Extra credit if you have time: as you walk, say to yourself “lifting, stepping, placing” for each movement of each foot.
Bareich ברך – blessing after the meal and drinking of the third cup of wine
Gratitude opportunity: Before or after saying the blessing after the meal, share one aspect of tonight’s seder that you are grateful for in this moment.
Hallel הלל – recital of the Hallel & drinking of the fourth cup of wine
Praise and song with nature: As we sing hallel and enjoy our 4th cup, imagine one sign of spring such as a tree bud or flower. Close your eyes and picture it celebrating the unfolding of warmth and light that comes with the new season.
Nirtzah נירצה – say "Next Year in Jerusalem!"
Turn to someone next to you or share with the entire group farewell blessings for their journey home or a sweet night’s rest.
The Seder Plate
Karpas: Karpas represents the initial flourishing of the Israelites during the first years in Egypt. At the end of the biblical book of Genesis, Joseph moves his family to Egypt, where he becomes the second-in-command to Pharaoh. Protected by Joseph's exalted status, the family lives safely for several generations and proliferate greatly, becoming a great nation. The size of this growing population frightens the new Pharaoh, who enslaves the Israelites, lest they make war on Egypt. Even under slave conditions, the Israelites continue to reproduce, and Pharaoh eventually decrees that all baby boys be killed. In the course of the seder, we dip the karpas in salt water in order to taste both the hope of new birth and the tears that the Israelite slaves shed over their condition.
Haroset: This mix of fruits, wine or honey, and nuts symbolizes the mortar that the Israelite slaves used to construct buildings for Pharaoh. The name itself comes from the Hebrew word cheres or clay. Ashkenazi Jews generally include apples in haroset, a nod to the midrashic tradition that the Israelite women would go into the fields and seduce their husbands under the apple trees, in defiance of the Egyptian attempts to prevent reproduction by separating men and women.
Maror: This bitter herb allows us to taste the bitterness of slavery. Like life in Egypt, these lettuces and roots taste sweet when one first bites into them, but then become bitter as one eats more. We dip maror into haroset in order to associate the bitterness of slavery with the work that caused so much of this bitterness.
Z'roa: A roasted lamb shank bone that symbolizes the lamb that Jews sacrificed as the special Passover offering when the Temple stood in Jerusalem. The z'roa serves as a visual reminder of the sacrifice that the Israelites offered immediately before leaving Egypt and that Jews continued to offer until the destruction of the Temple. Vegetarians often substitute a roasted beet, both because the red of the beet resembles the blood of the sacrifice and because the Talmud mentions beets as one of the vegetables sometimes dipped during the seder.
Beitzah: A roasted egg that symbolizes the hagigah sacrifice, which would be offered on every holiday (including Passover) when the Temple stood. The roundness of the egg also represents the cycle of life--even in the most painful of times, there is always hope for a new beginning.
Olive: An olive on my Seder plate represents the oppression of Palestinians at the hands of the Israelie Government. It reminds us to ask: “How will we, as Jews, bear witness to the unjust actions committed in our name? Will these olives inspire us to be bearers of peace and hope for Palestinians — and for all who are oppressed?” (Forward, Put an Olive on the Seder Plate)
Orange: The orange reminds us of the presence of LGBTQ folks in our community, and the oppression they and all of us face within the strict gender and sexuality roles enforced in the name of our tradition.
Tomato: The tomato is a symbol of modern-day slavery, representing the migrant workers who suffer abuse at the hands of a consumer market that demands fruits and vegetables without regard for how the pickers are treated.
Lock and Key: We place the lock and key on our seder plate tonight to ally ourselves with those who are behind bars, with those who are labelled as felons in the community, and with the parents, children, and other family members of those who are locked up and locked out. The key represents our commitment, as Jews who know a history of oppression, to join the movement to end mass incarceration in the United States. The key reminds us of our potential to partner with the Source of Liberation to unlock a more promising, dignified future for us all.
Our God and God of our ancestors, help those who are fleeing persecution today, as our ancestors did thousands of years ago. Show loving kindness and compassion to those hemmed in by misery and captivity, to those who take to the open seas or traverse treacherous landscapes seeking freedom and liberty. Rescue and recover them -- deliver them from gorge to meadow, from darkness to light. Inspire us to act on behalf of those we do not know, on behalf of those we may never meet because we know the heart of the stranger. We, too, ate the bread of affliction whose taste still lingers. And so, dear God inspire us to pursue righteousness for those who seek the freedom we enjoy tonight. Do it speedily and in our days, and let us say: Amen.
1. Once upon a time our people went into galut, exile, in the land of Egypt. During a famine our ancestor Jacob and his family fled to Egypt where food was plentiful. His son Joseph had risen to high position in Pharaoh’s court, and our people were well-respected and well-regarded, secure in the power structure of the time.
2. Generations passed and our people remained in Egypt. In time, a new Pharaoh ascended to the throne. He found our difference threatening, and ordered our people enslaved. In fear of rebellion, Pharaoh decreed that all Hebrew boy-children be killed. Two midwives named Shifrah and Puah defied his orders, claiming that “the Hebrew women are so hardy, they give birth before we arrive!” Through their courage, a boy survived; midrash tells us he was radiant with light. Fearing for his safety, his family placed him in a basket and he floated down the Nile. He was found, and adopted, by Pharaoh’s daughter, who named him Moshe because min ha-mayim m’shitihu, from the water she drew him forth. She hired his mother Yocheved as his wet-nurse. Thus he survived to adulthood, and was raised as Prince of Egypt.
3. Although a child of privilege, as he grew he became aware of the slaves who worked in the brickyards of his father. When he saw an overseer mistreat a slave, he struck the overseer and killed him. Fearing retribution, he set out across the Sinai alone. God spoke to him from a burning bush, which though it flamed was not consumed. The Voice called him to lead the Hebrew people to freedom. Moses argued with God, pleading inadequacy, but God disagreed. Sometimes our responsibilities choose us.
4. Moses returned to Egypt and went to Pharaoh to argue the injustice of slavery. He gave Pharaoh a mandate which resounds through history: Let my people go.
Pharaoh refused, and Moses warned him that Mighty God would strike the Egyptian people. These threats were not idle: ten terrible plagues were unleashed upon the Egyptians. Only when his nation lay in ruins did Pharaoh agree to our liberation.
5. Fearful that Pharaoh would change his mind, our people fled, not waiting for their bread dough to rise. (For this reason we eat unleavened bread as we take part in their journey.)
Our people did not leave Egypt alone; a “mixed multitude” went with them. From this we learn that liberation is not for us alone, but for all the nations of the earth. Even Pharaoh’s daughter came with us, and traded her old title (bat-Pharaoh, daughter of Pharaoh) for the name Batya, “daughter of God.”
6. Pharaoh’s army followed us to the Sea of Reeds. We plunged into the waters. Only when we had gone as far as we could did the waters part for us. We mourn, even now, that Pharaoh’s army drowned: our liberation is bittersweet because people died in our pursuit.
7. To this day we relive our liberation, that we may not become complacent, that we may always rejoice in our freedom.
Expand your sense of the possible.
Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself.
Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
10 of the 25 "Principles of Adult Behavior" , by John Perry Barlow.
Humanity manifests itself in brotherhood most frequently in “dark times.” This kind of humanity actually becomes inevitable when the times become so extremely dark for certain groups of people that it is no longer up to them, their insight or choice, to withdraw from the world. Humanity in the form of fraternity invariably appears historically among persecuted peoples and enslaved groups. ... This kind of humanity is the great privilege of pariah peoples; it is the advantage that the pariahs of this world always and in all circumstances can have over others. ...
It is as if under the pressure of persecution the persecuted have moved so closely together that the interspace ... has simply disappeared. This produces a warmth of human relationships which may strike those who have had some experience with such groups as an almost physical phenomenon. ...
In its full development it can breed a kindliness and sheer goodness of which human beings are otherwise scarcely capable. Frequently it is also the source of a vitality, a joy in the simple fact of being alive, rather suggesting that life comes fully into its own only among those who are, in worldly terms, the insulted and injured
I speak to you as an American Jew.
As Americans we share the profound concern of millions of people about the shame and disgrace of inequality and injustice which make a mockery of the great American idea.
As Jews we bring to this great demonstration, in which thousands of us proudly participate, a two-fold experience -- one of the spirit and one of our history.
In the realm of the spirit, our fathers taught us thousands of years ago that when God created man, he created him as everybody's neighbor. Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept. It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man's dignity and integrity.
From our Jewish historic experience of three and a half thousand years we say:
Our ancient history began with slavery and the yearning for freedom. During the Middle Ages my people lived for a thousand years in the ghettos of Europe . Our modern history begins with a proclamation of emancipation.
It is for these reasons that it is not merely sympathy and compassion for the black people ofAmerica that motivates us. It is above all and beyond all such sympathies and emotions a sense of complete identification and solidarity born of our own painful historic experience.
When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not '.the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.
A great people which had created a great civilization had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality and in the face of mass murder.
America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent. Not merely black America , but all of America . It must speak up and act,. from the President down to the humblest of us, and not for the sake of the Negro, not for the sake of the black community but for the sake of the image, the idea and the aspiration of America itself.
Our children, yours and mine in every school across the land, each morning pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States and to the republic for which it stands. They, the children, speak fervently and innocently of this land as the land of "liberty and justice for all."
The time, I believe, has come to work together - for it is not enough to hope together, and it is not enough to pray together, to work together that this children's oath, pronounced every morning from Maine to California, from North to South, may become. a glorious, unshakeable reality in a morally renewed and united America.