Seven Modern Additions to the Seder Plate

By and | Apr 19, 2024
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Modern items to put on the seder plate

During Passover, it is customary to fill the seder plate with foods that symbolize major elements of the Passover story. Parsley, bitter herbs, charoset, a shank bone and an egg are all traditionally included on the seder plate. 

However, there are plenty of food items you may not know about that you can add to your plate for a modern spin to your seder this Passover. The idea of adding nontraditional items to the seder plate gained popularity in the 1980s when Susannah Heschel, a professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth University, had every person at her seder make a blessing in solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community before eating an orange and spitting out the seeds as a symbol of their rejection of homophobia. In a Moment profile, Heschel said she started adding an orange to her seder plate after taking a trip to Oberlin College and discovering a feminist Haggadah that proposed placing a crust of bread on the plate to show solidarity for LGBTQIA+ Jews. To make this gesture kosher, she modified the bread to an orange, alluding to the “fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life.” 

This origin story was largely unknown until recently because the custom was falsely attributed to an Orthodox rabbi who, when asked about ordaining women, said that “a woman belongs on the bimah as much as an orange belongs on the seder plate!”

From an orange to cashews, here are some items to incorporate into your seder in order to give your seder a modern twist to reflect on current issues pertinent to Jewish life. 

Fair trade chocolate for fair-trade labor laws

During a holiday that commemorates the liberation of Jews from slavery, it is only fitting to acknowledge modern forms of slavery. Some Jews do this by consuming fair trade cocoa that comes from ethical agricultural practices and not forced labor. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 1,560,000 children are engaged in child labor on cocoa farms in Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire, two countries that produce 60 percent of cocoa worldwide. 

Fair Trade Judaica—a Jewish organization dedicated to promoting economic partnerships with ethical and sustainable companies—writes in their fair trade chocolate Haggadot supplement: “Our history of slavery awakens us to the plight of the stranger, and to the alarming occurrence of modern-day trafficking and slavery. For how can we celebrate our freedom, without recognizing that so many individuals still have not obtained theirs?”

An olive for peace between Israelis and Palestinians

The olive branch is a universal symbol of peace that dates back to ancient Greek mythology. In Jewish culture, the olive branch is a symbol of hope in the story of Noah’s Ark when a dove brings Noah an olive branch to let him know the rain has subsided. Today, the emblem of Israel is a menorah surrounded by olive branches, which represents Israel’s yearning for peace. 

The olive tree is also a core part of Palestinian culture and identity. According to Haytham Dieck, a researcher and tour coordinator at Bethlehem Bible College, many Palestinian families have inherited olive trees over many generations and they see the flourishing of these trees as a source of pride, because “it connects them back to their ancestors who worked daily on their land, taking care of it, just as a mother taking care of her children.”

On including olives in the Passover ritual, Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah, an emeritus rabbi of Brighton & Hove Progressive Synagogue, writes that “the olives on the seder plate remind us that we cannot celebrate our ancestors’ liberation from slavery in Egypt without acknowledging that today the Palestinian people are not yet free.” As the war continues in Gaza and many of the region’s olive trees are destroyed, putting an olive on your seder plate is a way of showing sympathy for Palestinians while also expressing desire and hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the future. 

In 2022, some Jews also started adding olives to their seder plate to show solidarity for Ukrainian Jews who are not able to celebrate Passover because of the ongoing war with Russia. The Jewish educational organization Jewbelong writes, “They aren’t recounting the story of slavery, plagues and ultimately finding freedom. Instead, they are the ones that are running or fighting for their lives.”

Cashews for troops

This tradition is attributed to Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz of Temple Emanuel, a Conservative synagogue in Newton, Massachusetts. The story goes that Rabbi Gardenswartz saw a sign in a CVS window encouraging customers to buy cashews to send to soldiers stationed in Iraq. According to an employee, whose son was on his second tour of duty in Iraq, the salted cashews provide a strong source of nourishment for soldiers in the desert climate. Thereafter, Rabbi Gardenswartz included cashews on his seder plate as a symbol of support for American troops stationed abroad.

Bananas for refugees

In 2015, the world was confronted by shocking photos of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying lifeless on a Turkish beach. Aylan, along with his brother Galip and their mother Rihan, had drowned while fleeing the Syrian civil war along with thousands of other refugees.

Aylan’s father, Abdullah, survived the journey. In telling the world about his deceased children, he mentioned their love for bananas. Although a rare snack in wartime, Abdullah would bring home bananas for his children as often as he could.

Placing a banana on the seder table to honor Aylan and other refugees was introduced by Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Sholom, Vancouver, British Columbia, where the Kurdi family had hoped to settle. The banana symbolizes children everywhere who are involved in modern-day exoduses. 

Acorns to honor Indigenous peoples in the United States

Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont, California, began the tradition of adding an acorn to the seder plate as a symbol of the sacred Jewish relationship with American Indigenous peoples. The innovation was spurred by a group called Jews on Ohlone Land which is affiliated with Kehilla in order to “remember this land and how its First Peoples lived before the ravages of colonization. To remind ourselves that we are guests here, and to honor our hosts. To open ourselves to the vastness of the miracles that are already possible in our time, just as the oak is already possible within the acorn.”

Because acorns fall in the autumn, Kehilla suggests that those who cannot find one place a photo on the seder plate this year instead, as a placeholder.

Ruth’s mix 

The eponymous heroine of the biblical book of Ruth is a Moabite who marries an Israelite. After the death of her husband, she accompanies her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to the latter’s homeland, becoming the first convert to Judaism recognized by Jewish tradition. 

Ruth’s mix—apparently created or at least popularized by the above-mentioned JewBelong—is a blend of almonds, raisins and chocolate chips incorporated into the seder to celebrate the diversity of Jews and Jewish communities. This tradition is a way of welcoming everyone who joins the seder whether they are Jewish or not, or whether they were born as a Jew or converted, and is accompanied by some friendly text. 

Rabbi Janet Marder writes about Ruth’s mix, “each of these ingredients is good on its own, but when mixed together they’re even better.”

A similar tradition, honoring Ruth with a cup like Elijah’s, has also circulated in recent years. 

Test tube for hereditary cancer prevention

According to Yodeah, a company committed to preventing hereditary cancers, one in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carries a BRCA gene mutation, which significantly increases the risk of developing cancer. 

This year, Yodeah began urging Jews to add a test tube to their seder plates to raise awareness of this risk and the need to get tested—according to Yodeah, the test tube represents the power of the knowledge people can use to make informed decisions about their health. 

Why a test tube? Yodeah says that an affordable saliva test is all that is required to learn if you have the BRCA mutation. Additionally, if potential parents test positive, Yodeah suggests that they pursue in-vitro fertilization (IVF), whereby doctors can select embryos that do not carry the BRCA mutation. 

Beyond the plate

In addition to items that are meant to go on the seder plate itself, a number of new Passover traditions have been adopted—or at least proposed—that extend to other parts of the evening or environment. For instance, the tradition of leaving an empty chair at the seder table started in 2022 as a way of showing solidarity for the many Ukrainian Jews in Russia who couldn’t participate in a seder because of the ongoing war with Russia. This year, many Jews are leaving an empty seat at their seder table to honor the 134 hostages thought to still be in captivity six months after October 7. Others are leaving an empty plate for the hostages in the middle of the seder table. 

Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center has suggested a new ritual just for this year: a cleansing ritual inspired by the red heifer mentioned in Numbers 19:9, which states that, “A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They are to be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin.” 

According to Waskow, the violence in the world today—particularly in Gaza—demands a new ritual to cleanse ourselves of guilt and shame before we can begin the Passover meal. He suggests printing out a picture of a red heifer and gathering a container that will not burn or melt, a candle and a large bowl of water. Next, Waskow says to light the candle and use it to set the picture of the red heifer aflame—outside! Afterward, dilute the ashes into the bowl of water and sprinkle each other with it. 

Finally, Miriam’s Cup has been embraced by many Jews since at least the 1990s. Miriam’s cup is meant to honor Moses’s sister, an important prophetess and person in her own right who many Jewish feminists feel has been traditionally undervalued. 

When the seder table is set, an extra cup—Miriam’s cup—is placed next to Elijah’s cup. Each seder participant pours some water into this cup. Water is specifically used not only because of its recurring role in the Passover story, but because one of Miriam’s important roles was to find water for the Israelites during their wanderings in the desert. Miriam’s cup is a new addition to the seder table in order to honor women, past and present, who make lasting contributions to Judaism and to bring awareness to the women whose voices have been silenced throughout history.

2 thoughts on “Seven Modern Additions to the Seder Plate

  1. TZIPI Radonsky says:

    Todah Rabah! Hag Someach freedom!!

  2. TZIPI Radonsky says:

    I am
    Proud of my people

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