Not Your Bubbe’s Seder Plate

By Melanie Weinstein

Modern Seder Plate with quote from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov that says "The Exodus from Egypt occurs in every human being, in every era, in every year, and in every day.”

For every two Jews, you’ll find three opinions. Same goes for the variety of options to put on the Passover Seder plate. In my Ashkenazi household, for my mom and her mom and her mom’s mom, setting the seder plate was akin to the classic Hallmark image of a family placing the star atop the Christmas tree. Once the Seder plate is set, it really is Passover.

Let’s take a tour of the traditional Seder plate, and then we’ll take a look at the evolution of the iconic Seder plate, and the ways you can incorporate some modern twists this year. You can still make your Bubbe’s (or Madar’s or Savta’s or Teta’s) seder plate – but add one or two new options and modern twists.

The Who’s Who of the Traditional Seder Plate

Flip through any traditional Haggadah, and you’ll see the the Seder Plate A team, the starter six, to help us gently re-enact our days in slavery, and #NeverForget our freedom:

Matzoh – Large flat cracker with tiny holes. When the Israelites fled from slavery, they didn’t have time to bake bread. They placed dough on their backs to bake in the sun. Since bread bakes in 350 degrees, it must have been a very hot desert…but we’re not asking for realism in a story about a talking burning bush, are we?

Maror – Bitter herb, often horseradish, to help us taste the bitterness of slavery— and clear out our nasal passages as fast as the Israelites hustled across the Red Sea to freedom.

Charoset – Move over e-commerce, brick and mortar is back. This sweet, spicy mix of fruits and nuts reminds us of the mortar we used to fasten bricks and build cities for Pharaoh.

Karpas – Like the Hulk, Karpas is green. Unlike the Hulk, Karpas is a green vegetable, usually parsley, that represents spring renewal. Inhale the fresh grass poking through the melting snow, and welcome a season of sunshine.

Z’roa – Roasted shank bone (sub beet for veggies!) represents the annual Passover animal sacrifices made during our ritual-sacrifice-days in the ancient temple circa 931 BCE. Place a bone on your seder plate, and hug your pets a little bit tighter tonight, thanking God it’s 2023.

Beitzah – Roasted egg represents fresh beginnings and the cycle of life. You know what I’m talking about. 😉

Modern Twists for Modern Plagues

Each time we engage with Jewish tradition, we’re faced with the task of looking both backwards and forwards. How do we commemorate the past, while looking to the future?

Alternate Seder plate options express our heart’s yearnings for a better world, yet leave room for all that we don’t yet know how to resolve. Just like the Israelites entering the dark desert expanse below a blanket of stars– with total faith, and likely some fear too.

These seder plate additions represent modern struggles and our dreams for a better future:

Orange – The orange celebrates the fruitfulness of LGBTQ+ Jews, and their contributions to our greater Jewish community. During your seder, eat an orange and spit out the seeds to represent spitting homophobia out of our world.

Miriam’s Cup – Honor women’s contributions by placing an empty cup beside Elijah’s cup of wine. During your seder plate ritual, ask guests to add water to Miriam’s cup, representing Miriam’s part in the liberation of the Israelites– and all women’s invisible labor today.

Fair-trade Chocolate / Coffee Beans – When we celebrate Passover we can acknowledge that slave trades still exist today. Fair trade coffee beans and chocolate have come to honor the children enslaved in labor around the world, and our need to put this inhumanity to an end.

Olives – Olives symbolize the olive trees that have been uprooted in Palestine. Placing an olive on our seder plates is a statement of allyship with Palestinians, and a call for peace. Any freedom that depends on the oppression of other people is not sustainable or just.

Garlic – From Jewish herbalist Dori Midnight, the Talmud teaches that garlic “brightens the face, warms the body, and instills love.” Garlic has traveled with the Jewish people for generations as an amulet for protection, a remedy, and a traditional cooking ingredient. Dori suggests placing garlic on the altar of our Seder plate as a commitment to practicing collective care and co-liberation.

As for me, I’ll be including a spoon on my Seder plate to honor my fellow Spoonies, the millions of people disabled by chronic invisible illnesses, many without cures or accessible medical care.

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.

You are not obligated to complete the work,

But neither are you free to abandon it.” – The Talmud

However you choose to set your Seder plate this year, I hope you’ll raise your fair trade grape juice, and celebrate that we actually made it to Passover 2023.

Zissen Pesach!

Originally from New Jersey, Melanie Weinstein is unofficially ordained as a ‘Jew of LA,’ having officiated and mentored for Hebrew Helpers, Nefesh, SIJCC’s Jewish Learning Center, IKAR and more. Melanie is a writer, actor, producer, and filmmaker whose NSFW short film shot at the SIJCC is touring in Europe now. Her G-rated Yiddish film, Menashe, can be seen on Amazon Prime.

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