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Learn about the meaning behind a traditional seder plate.
Passover, a weeklong celebration that commemorates the Jewish people's exodus from slavery in Egypt during the time of Moses, begins March 25 at sundown. On the first and second night of Passover, a symbolic meal called a seder is held to recount and remember the Passover story.
A seder plate sits at the table as a Passover symbol, which contains spaces meant to hold particular foods that represent different parts of the Passover story. Seder plates can be purchased at most tabletop stores, but many are passed down through families as heirlooms. If you’re looking to shop for an original and symbolic seder plate, the Jewish Museum of New York is a great source.
Although seder plate traditions differ from family to family, here is a general guide:
Maror: A bitter herb, usually horseradish, represents the bitter time the Jews spent in slavery. Grated or from a jar, it’s served atop matzoh.
Z’ora: A lamb shank bone symbolizes the sacrificial lamb offered at temple in Jerusalem before its destruction.
Charoset: A mixture of fruits, wine or honey, and nuts represents the mortar that the slaves used to keep the bricks together when they were building the pyramids in Egypt.
Karpas: A green vegetable, often parsley, symbolizes spring. It’s dipped in salt water to represent the tears shed while Israelites were slaves in Egypt.
Beitzah: A hard-boiled egg signifies life and the second offerings presented at the temple in Jerusalem. It’s usually dipped in salt water as well.
Check out our complete guide to Passover here.
How to Set a Passover Seder Plate
Last-Minute Recipes for Your Passover Seder
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Haroset (sometimes spelled “charoset,” or חרוסת) is a mixture of fruit and nuts for the seder plate on Passover. It’s sometimes tart, always sweet, and often chunky, frequently containing wine and cinnamon. Strangely, this sweet symbol helps us to remember the mortar that was used to make the bricks used in the building of Egyptian cities. It was back-breaking labor, all done by hand.
Find several different recipes for haroset on Passover, including Ashkenazi, Moroccan, Turkish and Egyptian variations, here!
Pronounced: SAY-der, Origin: Hebrew, literally “order” usually used to describe the ceremonial meal and telling of the Passover story on the first two nights of Passover. (In Israel, Jews have a seder only on the first night of Passover.)
Make Your Online Seder Lively, Engaging, and Meaningful
Passover is an experiential holiday, a time when we typically come together with loved ones in celebration of our Judaism. For some families, this is the one time each year when everyone joins together in person to share traditions, tell stories, and create lasting memories.
But this year’s continuing COVID-19 pandemic again means that we cannot share physical spaces – so what are we to do? Thanks to modern technology, we can still gather online to create fun, engaging, meaningful, and memory-making holiday experiences – together.
Still, even seasoned seder hosts may feel stumped as they prepare to take the tradition online, wondering, “With guests watching from home instead of sitting around the table together, how can I keep everyone feeling connected and engaged?!”
It’s time to get creative. again.
This multi-part resource can help you re-imagine your usual traditions and incorporate digital content that will enliven the virtual rendition of your Passover seder seder סֵדֶר "Order" ritual dinner that includes the retelling of the story of the Israelite's Exodus from Egypt plural: sederim. . From choosing a Haggadah Haggadah הַגָּדָה Literally, “telling.” This is the Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Passover seder. Plural: Haggadot. to saying, “Next year, in Jerusalem,” each section includes curated ideas and digital content (including videos, activities, discussion questions, and more).
Pick and choose what speaks to you in order to create a fun, engaging, meaningful, and memorable Passover experience, even in the age of social distancing. Let’s get started – and chag sameach Chag Sameach Hebrew for term meaning, "happy holiday." !
1. CHOOSING A HAGGADAH
The most important part of the story is the way you tell it – your framing, your intention, the way you want people to feel…
These considerations will help you decide which Haggadah is right for you – and this year’s unique circumstances may even present the opportunity for you to use more than one.
- : CCAR Press shares discounted Haggadot (both print and online), free flipbooks, and more to help you lead virtual Passover celebrations and allow seder guests to follow along from afar. This year, their beautiful new Haggadah will enliven your seder even more! : These eight great Haggadot have been recommended by Jewish educators as being imaginative, accessible, and child-friendly (but not childish). : Choose from classical texts and contemporary interpretations to create a customized Haggadah.
2. SETTING THE ATMOSPHERE
Passover celebrates the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Our celebration of this holiday is a joyous one, and the seder itself is intended to share this story with generations, from the youngest to the oldest.
This is the chance to create an experiential learning activity par excellence. Your seder can be fun and interactive, inspiring questions and invoking memories – while creating new ones, too. Dive into the chance play with the seder: debate, celebrate, inspire, and most of all, create meaning.
- Seder Videos: This year, the Union for Reform Judaism has collaborated with Reform leaders from North America and the UK to provide a set of videos to accompany your Passover festivities. Each video is 2-6 minutes long and contains blessings, songs, and insights that perfectly supplement any seder.
- Perfect Passover Playlists: Use these curated Spotify playlists to help create atmosphere throughout your seder. They include songs that are perfect for your youngest participants, as well as old-time, family-friendly favorites.
- Virtual Backgrounds: Change up the visual experience for your seder guests. You can stick with one, or change periodically depending on the step of the seder you have reached. : “Les Matzarables” will surely get everyone in the mood for the excitement of the seder! Join with familiar, furry characters as they sing about Passover to a tune reminiscent of the classic Les Miserables. : This is a great year to try out new drinks to share during your seder. Everyone makes and modifies their own, but you can all share a drink together. : No need to do things the same way you always have (unless you want to, of course). These creative, experiential ideas will enliven the whole seder experience : This handy video and infographic will refresh your memory and help you be sure you have what you need.
- African American Seder Plate: This African American seder plate was created by Michael Twitty, a Judaics teacher and culinary historian who focuses on the foodways of Africa, enslaved African Americans, African America, and the African and Jewish diasporas. : Teach kids about the order of the seder using this fun, interactive activity. : This year, more than ever, it’s important to reach out and connect with those we love. Why not share a fun Passover ecard with friends and family?
- What would you add to the seder plate as a symbol of this unusual Passover?
- What are some new ways to invite people to your seder? Technology? Requesting or sending messages? Brainstorm together.
- How will your table setting include the people you care most about, even if they aren't with you in person?
- What do you find most exciting or interesting about this year’s seder?
- Which symbol on the seder plate is the most important to you? Why?
3. KADEISH: SANCTIFICATION
One of the ways we make this moment holy is by reciting the special Passover Kiddush blessing over the wine (or juice). We lift up the first cup to remember our exodus from Egypt and taste the sweetness of freedom.
- : Help your community prepare by sharing this link in advance of the seder, which will help guests become more familiar with the blessing and follow along. : With each cup of wine, this reading asks us to think about our own ability to create redemptive change in the world. : Diverging from the holiday’s traditional red wine, this entertaining guide suggest holiday-themed pairings for your seder and beyond.
- Traditionally, wine is intended to signify joy. What makes this seder joyful for you?
- What are you filling your wine glass with? What is filling you up right now?
- Freedom is the primary theme of Passover, what freedom are you celebrating tonight?
4. KARPAS: GREENS / VEGETABLE
The first time we eat during the seder (and our first truly Passover-like ritual) is the dipping of greens into saltwater. Saltwater is a significant part of our story, a reminder of the tears shed during slavery and for enslaved people.
But dipping the greens – the first shoots of spring, which always return, whether we witness their budding or not – are signs of hope amid dark times. Hope emerges, even while damp with tears.
- Karpas symbolizes hope for the future. Jewish tradition always embraces hope, even during uncertain times. What makes you hopeful this year? Why?
- What signs of spring are you noticing today, wherever you live? If someone at your virtual seder lives in another place, are they seeing different signs of the season?
- What experiences in your life have given you hope? When were you successful in a struggle to change? What did you learn from the experience?
5. MAGID: TELLING THE STORY
The Passover story tells of the Jewish people’s journey from slavery to freedom, narrating the Exodus from Egypt and describing each of the ritual items and their purpose.
This is when we ask the Four Questions – and then, in the rest of the Magid, we answer those questions in some the most popularly known elements of the seder.
- : Journey through the story of the Exodus with PJ Library’s beautiful, artistic animation and easy-to-follow narration. : BimBam’s catchy music video tells the story of siblings Moses, Miriam, and Aaron and their familial devotion to one another it also includes the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. : In this fun video, young children tell the Exodus story in their own words – with a few twists. : One of the most important elements of the seder is our commitment to the continuous act of asking questions – a reminder of our freedom. Here’s a list of imaginative questions to get guests thinking all seder long. : Using the model of six-word poetry to foster creative storytelling, invite your guests to write their own and share with the group. : Want some friendly competition? Invite seder guests to take this quiz to see what they know (and don't know!) about the holiday.
- What moment in the Exodus story would you love to be able to transport yourself into and experience with the Israelites? Why?
- Where do you see bravery in this story?
- Why is it important to retell this story every year? How does the Exodus story shape your outlook on the world?
6. THE FOUR QUESTIONS
One of the highlights of the seder is when we ask the Four Questions, typically sung by the youngest seder guests.
Using the refrain, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” each question leads us to consider what makes this moment of remembering our exodus from Egypt so special.
- : This animated BimBam video isn’t just for kids! The "bouncing ball" helps everyone follow along with Hebrew, English, and transliteration. (Scroll to the bottom of the page for the video.) : Help everyone follow along and participate by emailing, screen-sharing, or printing this simple but valuable PDF, which includes Hebrew/Aramaic, translation, and transliteration. : Sing the Four Questions together with this mp3 version and/or encourage guests to follow along with a printout of the words. You can even get creative and share your own images. : In this seder insert, clergy and teachers from diverse backgrounds address racial justice through the lens of the Four Questions. : These thought-provoking questions encourage us to consider our own history as immigrants and how we can fulfill the legacy of the Passover seder today.
- Passover Mad-Libs: It can be fun to mix it all up a bit and find new ways to tell the story and ask more questions. These Passover Mad-Libs give everyone at your seder a chance to participate in their own way.
- The seder is all about invoking curiosity. This year, our seder is different in so many ways. What are some questions you’re asking tonight?
- Four is a key number in the Haggadah. Can you name some things in your life that come in fours?
- It is customary for the youngest person at the seder to ask the Four Questions. If you were to create a new tradition for the asking of the Four Questions, who would you choose to ask the questions? Why?
7. THE FOUR CHILDREN
Throughout our history, the Four Children of the Passover story have sparked conversation, artistic renderings, songs, debates, and more.
This important moment in the seder – a moment of stereotypes and truths, educational philosophies and parenting insights – can invite everyone into conversation about ourselves as children, as adults, and as members of a community tasked with leading new generations into the future.
- : Sophisticated, clever animation brings to life the Four Children (here called the Four Sons) in an engaging and accessible way. : Take a fun foray into “a galaxy far, far away,” where beloved Star Wars characters illustrate each of the traditional Four Children. : This piece, which can be read aloud or individually, draws parallels between the Four Children and the way people think about climate change.
- The Four Children: A Racial Justice Haggadah Insert: Use this resource to spark conversation about the importance of racial justice in your family’s Passover seder.
- The Four Children could be perceived as four personalities within one person. Where do you see the four children reflected in yourself, your family and the world?
- Think about your favorite TV show, movie, book etc. Which characters would you label as each of the Four Children?
8. THE TEN PLAGUES
Our freedom from slavery came only after great suffering on the part of the Egyptian people in the form of the Ten Plagues.
God brought the plagues against the Egyptian people with the potential that each could lead to the Israelites’ freedom. Instead, each plague led only to another until, finally, the ultimate plague: Death of the Firstborn.
To honor the weight of the terrible suffering brought upon the Egyptian people, we pour out a drop of wine for each of the Ten Plagues, each one signifying the cost of our celebration.
- : This animated video from BimBam both shows and tells viewers about the plagues God sent upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. : This modern-day reimagining of Ten Plagues encourages us to think about issues of climate change, gun violence, and criminal justice reform – and agitates us to work for change. : These moving words about the refugee experience urges us to consider our people’s history and our responsibility to respond to the current refugee crisis.
- What makes you uncomfortable about the Ten Plagues? Why?
- How can we understand the celebration of our own freedom in light of the pain that the plagues caused others? On a personal level, how do we reconcile celebrating when members of our community are suffering?
- Which of the plagues do you think would be easiest for you to experience? Which would be most difficult? Why?
9. SINGING “DAYENU”
Dayenu, it would have been enough… but then there was more!
This moment in the seder, full of singing and simple repetition, can be a stark reminder of the importance (and the challenge) of practicing gratitude, particularly in times of stress.
What might have been enough… until another meaningful moment appeared around the next corner? How can we see our time of gathering for seder as Dayenu, when we received a moment of grace, when perhaps we thought we’d had enough?
- : Use this engaging video as background music or as the main attraction when you sing the classic Passover song at your own seder.
- What are you grateful for this year? Why?
- The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped more than a year of our lives and impacted two Passover celebrations. What moments of gratitude can you share – even on the days when you feel like you’ve had enough?
- Throughout the last year, what have you learned about yourself and your awareness to find gratitude even in difficult times?
- If you could add a verse to “Dayenu” this year, what would it be?
10. MAROR (BITTER HERBS), CHAROSET, AND KOREICH (HILLEL SANDWICH)
In ancient times, the Talmudic scholar Hillel ate lamb, matzah, and bitter herbs together to symbolize the interconnectedness of slavery and freedom.
Today, we honor this tradition at our seder by making the famous koreich, also known as the “Hillel Sandwich.” Between two pieces of matzah, we combine sweet charoset (which represents the mortar used to build the pyramid) and maror (bitter herbs), a reminder not to forget the relationship between bitter and sweet.
- : Hanan Harchol’s animated video offers a compelling introduction to the idea of maror – what happens when we experience bitterness and then have the opportunity to think about how to respond. : With your seder guests, listen to this short story about how to experience bitterness and pain in a way that can be miraculous, good, beautiful, sweet, and even holy. : Share this recipe with guests in advance for a classic Ashkenazi charoset recipe… with a little Lone Star State twist! : How else might we create the sweetness and bitterness represented by the Hillel Sandwich? This list encourages you to think about food combinations that could create similar experiences. Poll your guests to see which combinations they may want to try next year.
- We eat bitter herbs twice before eating the meal. How does tasting the bitterness increase our enjoyment of the sweet?
- The maror reminds us of the bitterness of slavery. What makes you bitter? Why?
- When in your life have you experienced bitter and sweet concurrently? What, if anything, did you learn from this experience?
- Has there been an experience in your life that was bitter at first but, in retrospect, feels sweet?
- What do you do to move from bitterness to joy and sweetness? What helps you accept the bitter and move to joy?
- What are the origins of your favorite charoset recipe?
11. SHULCHAN OREICH: EATING THE MEAL
It’s finally time to enjoy our festive meals!
In past years, maybe we all sat together and ate the same food around the same table, arguing about whether the matzah balls were too dense or too light. This year, we’re eating different meals at different tables in different places, but we’re still able to come together as a community.
There’s more to do after the meal, so check back later to complete the seder. B’tayavon (and, pssst: Try not to chew too loudly into your microphone).
- : This treasure trove of recipes includes dishes from around the world, giving you lots of new ideas for your seder and for the rest of the week, as well. Send this link to guests in advance to encourage them to try a new recipe this year, too.
- What’s your go-to main course on Passover? Why do you return to this dish, year after year?
- Share a story about a dish on your seder table.
- What are the must-have dishes at your seder?
12. FINDING THE AFIKOMAN
At the start of the seder, we broke the middle piece of our three pieces of matzah, removing half and wrapping the larger section in a separate cloth to serve as the afikoman afikoman אֲפִיקוֹמָן "Dessert" (Greek) matzah is the official "dessert" of the Passover seder meal. During the seder, the children traditionally "steal"and hide the afikoman, and it must be redeemed by the seder leader. , the “dessert” matzah that will mark the official end of the seder.
Hiding the afikoman for young people to search for and find at the end of the seder is a highlight of the holiday – and yet another example of how the rabbis designed the seder to be interactive and experiential. Kids will stay awake throughout the seder if a game (and maybe a prize) awaits them!
Throughout the seder, children may look to see whether they can catch the leader hiding the afikoman, and when they’re given the go-ahead to start looking, they’ll likely race to find it. Typically, once the afikoman has been located and a final blessing said, everyone shares the afikoman, and then the seder concludes.
- : This year, you may not all be able to search for the afikoman together – but that doesn't mean you can't have fun with the ritual. Share this video and see what you think! : If you've never made matzah from scratch, now's the time! Kids will love helping. and then finding the afikoman they made themselves.
- Though the afikoman represents our liberation from slavery, other types of slavery and oppression still persist today. How will you commit to help liberate those oppressed by other forms of bondage?
- The afikoman reminds us that what is broken can be repaired, and what is lost can be found. What are some things you hope to find and repair before we meet again for seder in 2022?
- What strategy did you use to find the afikoman? What skills did you use?
13. HALLEL, ELIJAH, AND MIRIAM: MOMENTS OF PRAISE AND HOPE
With our stomachs full, we spend a few moments offering our praise and gratitude – for God, and for freedom.
This is also a moment when we recognize Miriam, a leader of the Jewish people in her own right, for helping to protect Moses as an infant and leading the Israelites in song after crossing the Red Sea.
We also welcome to our table the prophet Elijah, a symbol of redemption and a harbinger of a messianic age when the world will be healed.
- : Elijah represents a hopefulness for the future, a redemptive time to come – but we cannot arrive at that time without everyone doing the work of redemption. Listen to this short story, then invite guests to share their own stories of small actions that make a big difference. : This poem by Ruth H. Sohn raises up the voice of Miriam, which helps us to remember the power of belief, miracles, and song.
- We open the door to welcome Elijah in order to usher in hope for the future. What do you think Elijah needs to bring this year?
- What will we do this year to help bring hope to the world?
- What can we do to share praise, like Miriam?
14. NIRTZAH: LOOKING AHEAD
The final step in the seder is the song “B’shanah Habaah B’Yerushalayim (Next Year in Jerusalem).” We conclude the evening with hope for the future and for increased healing in the world – and with our own commitment to strive to create a better and more complete world in the year to come.
This is the time in the seder when we sing classic songs like “Chad Gaya (One Kid Goat),” an allegory for the reality of consequences.
A 15-Step Ritual: The Order of the Passover Seder, Explained
The Seder has been the basis for Passover celebrations for thousands of years.
Though the Passover celebration is one that&aposs easily personalized, the basic format of the Seder—the origin of which dates back to the 300s—is built on tradition. The word "Seder" means "order," and its 15 steps take participants through a ritual commemorating the stories of the book of Exodus, in which the Jews fled enslavement in Egypt. "The Exodus is our archetypal story of God as Deliverer and Redeemer," writes Rabbi Debbie Stiel on ReformJudaism.org. "Here we learn that injustices can be fought and that we can draw strength from God." Led typically by the head of the household who follows a modern or traditional scriptlled the Haggadah—the Seder also offers the opportunity for guests of all ages to join in. "Many families will just read through the Haggadah in a round-robin fashion, allowing everyone who wants to be involved, so it is more participatory," says Rabbi Leora Kaye of Union for Reform Judaism. "Lots of families have jokes about who ends up reading sections like &aposThe Wise Child&apos or &aposThe Wicked Child.&apos"
As for a Seder&aposs key details, beyond the service? Food, drink, and dຜor, of course. The main dishes at a Passover meal can vary among families and from year to year, but two elements remain consistent: The Seder plate and the matzah. The plate includes six foods, each representing a different part of the Exodus story: betizah, a roasted egg, which symbolizes sacrificial traditions and the coming of spring maror, a bitter herb𠅌ommonly horseradish𠅊nd chazeret, lettuce, which fulfill a commandment set in the book of Numbers zeroa, a shank bone, which calls back to the Biblical sacrifice of lambs charoset, a mixture of apples, nuts, and spices, representing "the mortar used by Hebrew slaves to build Egyptian structures" and karpas, or parsley, which incorporates the ritual&aposs Greek influences.
On a separate plate, three pieces of matzah nod to the unleavened bread that the Israelites took with them when they fled Egypt. The ceremony also includes four cups of wine poured during specific parts of the ritual, which, says Kaye, represent "four moments of redemption as expressed by God in the Passover story in the Torah: Exodus 6:6-7—&aposI will take you out, I will save you, I will redeem you, I will take you as a nation.&apos" Ahead, what each step of the Seder involves and means within the context of the whole.
The Seder Plate
Homemade Preserved Horseradish
As tempting as it might be to pick up a bottle of prepared horseradish from the grocery store, it's almost as easy to make it from scratch. It takes just three ingredients—chunks of horseradish root, a little white vinegar to keep it from browning, and a pinch of salt—and a few minutes of pulsing in a food processor or blender. Make it now, and you can use it straight through the holiday—the pungent condiment will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for about three weeks.
Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs
Hard-boiling an egg may seem like the simplest of tasks, but it comes with a number of possible pitfalls: chalky, green-tinged yolks rubbery whites and, worst of all, the shell that refuses to pull away. Our heavily tested technique will save you from all of those dreaded outcomes. For easily peelable eggs, with firm but tender whites and nicely cooked yolks, start them in boiling water, then simmer for 11 minutes, shock in ice water, and remove the shell under running water. Or, even better, try steaming them instead.
Traditional Ashkenazi Charoset With Apples and Walnuts
This classic Ashkenazi charoset is so tasty, you'll be tempted to scarf up all the leftovers once the seder is over, and so simple that you may just start making it all year long. Combine diced apples and chopped toasted walnuts with a cup of sweet red Passover wine, plus plain or lightly toasted sugar and a pinch of spices, and you're done. We like to use a mix of sweet and tart apples, like a combination of Fuji and Granny Smith, for a balanced flavor.
Sephardic-Style Charoset With Dried Fruit and Nuts
Unlike the Ashkenazi version, Sephardic-style charoset incorporates dried fruits rather than fresh apples, and a wider variety of spices and nuts. Ours blends a red wine–simmered mixture of dates, dried apricots, and raisins with roasted almonds, plus a bit of fragrant orange blossom water. Chopping up the nuts and fruit in a food processor speeds things up, but make sure to leave a few chunks for texture.
Passover Seder Dinner
Passover is the Jewish festival in celebration of the Jews' freedom from slavery and flight from Egypt. Although traditions vary throughout the world, the basics are as follows: The holiday lasts a total of seven or eight days (depending on where it's being celebrated), and the first night of Passover begins with a ceremonial dinner, called a Seder, where the story of the exodus is told.
The food and wine customs of a given Seder are elaborate, and they differ between regions and families, but some factors remain constant.
- Each participant in the Seder drinks four cups of wine throughout the evening, at fixed points, for the four promises of redemption associated with the exodus story.
Fundamental to the Seder table is the Seder plate, which has on it the following items:
- Zeroah, a lamb's shankbone symbolizing the ancient Passover sacrifice
Some traditions also include chazeret, a second bitter herb, usually the roots of romaine lettuce. Also necessary are three matzos (unleavened bread, symbolizing the haste of the flight from Egypt — there was no time for the bread to rise), either wrapped in cloth or covered, and broken and eaten at set points throughout the evening.
The actual Seder meal is also quite variable. Traditions among Ashkenazi Jews generally include gefilte fish (poached fish dumplings), matzo ball soup, brisket or roast chicken, potato kugel (somewhat like a casserole) and tzimmes, a stew of carrots and prunes, sometimes including potatoes or sweet potatoes.
Here is how I make my Vegan Seder Plate:
Matzoh: of course there is the matzoh, the bread of haste as the slaves did not have time to let their bread rise before escaping Egypt. Just make sure you buy egg-free matzoh.
Karpas: a vegetable or herb such as potato, celery or parsley is used as a symbol of spring. It is dipped in salt water to symbolize the tears of the Hebrew slaves. I tend to use parsley since I always have a bunch of it around.
Maror: the bitter herbs are to remind us of the bitterness of slavery. This can be symbolized with lettuce or horseradish. I think other bitter greens such as dandelion radish greens or mustard greens would also work here.
Charoset: a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, agave, and spices (see my recipe below). Charoset is used to symbolize the mortar used to layer bricks which was done by the Hebrew slaves. It is sweet though, and delicious.
Z’Roa: the shankbone used to symbolize the sacrificial lamb. Of course, there won’t be any bones on a vegan table so what’s a good substitute? I like to use beets. The blood-red color of the beets is certainly symbolic of the blood shed as well as the blood smeared over the doors of the people the Angel of Death was to pass over. According to the “Haggadah for the Vegetarian Family,” olives, grapes and grains of unfermented barley can also be used to symbolize the commandments of compassion for the oppressed.
Beitzah: the egg which has multiple meanings on a seder plate. It represents the second offering in the Temple as well as the mourning of the loss of the Temple of Jerusalem. Eggs are also common in spring holidays as a symbol of new life, renewal and hope. Wonderful substitutes for eggs include oranges, seeds, ripe fruit with pits and even edible flowers. I tend to use an avocado pit but I have also used oranges on my Seder plate.
Of course my Seder table is also filled with vegan delectables like these:
What Items Goes On a Seder Plate
KARPAS: A vegetable, often parsley, symbolizing spring and rebirth.
BAYTZAH: Roasted egg. The egg also represents spring and the birth of the Jewish people after they fled slavery. The roasting recalls the Passover sacrifice brought to the Temple in Jerusalem in ancient times.
CHAROSET: Typically a mixture of fruits and nuts, many families and Jewish cultures have their own versions. Symbolizes the mortar that the Israelite slaves used to make bricks.
ZEROA: Roasted bone that also represents the Passover offering. Many vegetarians use a roasted beet instead.
MAROR:Bitter herbs (often horseradish), symbolizing the bitterness of slavery.
CHAZERET: Most seder plates have an additional place for another bitter vegetable to symbolize slavery, often Romaine lettuce.
Can’t find all of these items? Try drawing a picture of them for your plate or get creative with substitutions.
Some people also add items to their seder plates that symbolize contemporary issues related to oppression, justice and inclusion. Personalizing your plate with things you care about is an opportunity to express your family’s unique values and relationship to Passover.
What Is a Seder Plate?
Passover is celebrated as a way to commemorate the history of Jewish people. "The Passover story and the seder imparts lessons that have varied takeaways for modern-day about slavery, injustice, overcoming adversity, and standing up for what is right," says Sarna. The seder plate serves as the centerpiece of the table and has five key components, all of which symbolize something significant about the Passover story. Horseradish symbolizes the bitterness and difficulties of life as a slave in Egypt parsley celebrates the spring season a hard-boiled egg symbolizes the circle of life and a time of renewal for Jewish people a shank bone represents the sacrificial lamb and haroset, which is a sweet mixture of apples or dried fruit, nuts, and sweet wine, symbolizes the mortar that the Hebrew slaves used to build for the Egyptians.
How Is the Seder Plate Arranged?
There are a few traditions regarding the arrangement of items on the seder plate. Most commonly, the maror is placed in the middle of the plate. The hazeret is at the six o&rsquoclock position followed by, moving clockwise, karpas (seven o&rsquoclock), beitzah (11 o&rsquoclock), z&rsquoroa (one o&rsquoclock), and haroset (five o&rsquoclock).
This Passover, we are all segments of the orange on our Seder plates
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I’m not exactly sure when I started putting an orange on the Seder plate. I do know that I was one of the legions who initially got the backstory wrong about this new custom.
I had heard that Prof. Susannah Heschel, daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, had come up with the idea after some curmudgeon dismissed the idea of women rabbis by saying, “A woman on the bimah is like an orange on the Seder plate!” In fact, as Professor Heschel has written in various venues, it was a defiant response to a rebbetzin having said, “There’s as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate.”
Courtesy of Dartmouth College
Professor Susannah Heschel
For me, the specific origin story is less important, because what the orange has come to symbolize is how hard it can be, at one point in time, to even imagine what “normal” might look like in the future. Even as we are putting ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors walking from slavery to freedom, the orange reminds us that the next generations will continue to evolve our customs.
My children cannot imagine a Judaism without lesbians: that would mean our synagogue without its cantor. They may well know more female rabbis than male ones. So we don’t need an orange to make room for those possibilities at our table — they are the realities of every Jewish thing we do. Instead, I see the orange as a broader symbol of the ability of our Judaism to change, to progress, without losing its essence. And of the essentialness of that progress.
A year ago, in those early, frightening weeks as the pandemic took hold, we were scrambling to navigate a Passover different from all other Passovers. How to reimagine our grandmother’s brisket recipe for a foursome instead of a crowd? Where to shop for specialty items safe from the crowd? What does a Seder for one look like? Could we create a Zoom Seder experience — and teach great-Aunt Rena how to sign on?
It wasn’t as bad as we feared. In this article, many readers shared stories of Seders that felt more meaningful, of feeling more viscerally connected to the Haggadah’s plagues and the idea of ‘mitzrayim’ — a narrow place. They were thrilled to be able to share the holiday with faraway relatives and friends.
Yes, we missed the feeling of crowding around a big table laden with food, even of gossiping over the mountain of dishes afterward. But we didn’t talk over each other as much. We prepared more and engaged with the text better.
Alongside “next year in Jerusalem,” many of us said, “next year in person.” Now, next year is here, and we are in a kind of limbo: with vaccinations picking up, but COVID cases and deaths still far too high, we are cautiously reopening and recalibrating our understanding of risk. We seem to have left the Egypt of lockdown but still feel far from the Promised Land of her immunity. We are in the Red Sea, walking to a future we still have to design.
This year, the orange on our Seder plate symbolizes hope in that uncertainty. It represents all the amazing innovations we found during this pandemic year to adapt and progress our Judaism, our work, our families and everything in between. It stands for the way Zoom shiva allowed people in faraway countries to comfort mourners, and the way college students helped homebound seniors sign up for vaccinations.
When I spoke to Heschel this week, she shared her tradition of opening and eating the orange, which I have not been doing (but will definitely start). “The first part of the Seder lasts a very long time in my house, several hours, and people are getting hungry,” she noted. “The orange freshens people up a little, gives them sugar — when I see people start to nod, I’ll say, ‘What’s different here? Why do we have the orange?’ and I tell the story.”
(Side note: I’ve been to Seders where “karpas,” the ritual eating of a green vegetable, is a substantive spread of salads and hors d’oeuvres, instead of a meager stalk of celery — it really helps.)
This, too, struck me as a perfect metaphor for our pandemic year. Those segments of the orange symbolize the concept of collective responsibility, of flattening the curve, of everyone needing to get vaccinated not only to protect themselves but to make the world safe for each other.
The Talmudic phrase, “kol Yisrael arayvim zeh bazeh” — all Israel is responsible for one another — comes to mind. We are all segments of a single orange, the orange on our Seder plates.
Watch: A Hybrid Passover
The orange was one of many Seder symbols we talked about at a Zoominar Thursday featuring Rabbi Jay Michaelson, who writes our annual Haggadah guide Marcella White Campbell of Be’chol Lashon Al Rosenberg from OneTable.org and Rabbi Elie Kaunfer of Hadar.
The experts offered many deep insights, as well as practical tips for how to approach make this unusual Passover, and all Passovers, meaningful and relevant. And many in the audience shared their own experiences and reflections via chat. Here’s a few:
DAVID FINK:“My favorite thing I’ve done at a seder is to allow people attending to submit charities as candidates to receive an $100 donation designed to give people freedom. We had discussions about freedom and how each potential recipient would help give freedom. In the end, we donated over $1,000 because others added to the pot.”
LISA LESSER:“I look at the Haggadah as the jumping off point. For some people, all they can do is read the Seder — and then, Dayenu. We we use inserts from 17 Haggadot, sing crazy songs, etc. etc. Each attempt to do this can be enough.”
MISSY LEE:“For my Zaide to soon be able to get his vaccine @ 85-plus makes him feel like freedom is on the horizon.”