Apr 22, 2024 - World

New Seder plate items: oranges and olive branches

Photo illustration of hands breaking matzah, a family seder with a child dipping her finger into a cup

Photo Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

Starting tonight, Jews will observe Passover, a holiday that's been around for thousands of years.

Zoom in: To many, one important tradition — along with eating matzo and drinking four glasses of wine at dinner — is to continuously update the Passover celebration.

  • "Putting our rituals in a glass case actually turns them into idols in some ways … and I think it's unauthentic to the tradition," says Rabbi Sarah Krinsky of Adas Israel Congregation in D.C.

Catch up quick: Passover commemorates the Exodus story, when the Jews fled slavery in Egypt. That tale of Pharaoh, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea is told via a storytelling dinner called a Seder.

  • One tradition is discussing the items displayed on the ceremonial Seder plate, which helps frame the Exodus story.
  • For example, bitter herbs represent the bitterness of slavery, and an apple and nut mixture symbolizes mortar in bricks that Israelites built when they were slaves.

"The entire point of the Passover Seder, really, is to be a pedagogical tool that elicits questions from children, that then sparks discussion," Krinsky says.

  • "Almost all of the funky things that you see down at a Seder … 'Why do we wash our hands in this order? Why do we eat foods in the order we do?' The answer to almost all of those things is we do it to provoke questions."
  • Those questions turn into conversations filled with important lessons about history, family and culture.

Case in point: Many Jews are switching up the Seder plate because items there can serve as jumping-off points for discussions about current events.

  • One popular recent tradition involves putting an orange on the plate. The fruit has "several mythologies around it," Krinsky says, but is typically a symbol of inclusivity, often for women and/or the LGBTQ+ community.
  • This year, the Israel-Hamas war might be top of mind for many Jews, and could translate into a new plate item. "Maybe people would want to add an olive branch this year" or a food — like one of the "seven species" — associated with Israel, Krinsky says.

The big picture: It's not just the food. A number of Jews have used ChatGPT to create a Haggadah, the text that guides the Seder, spurring conversation about how technology can fit into religion.

Carly's thought bubble: When I hosted Passover last year for a number of friends who'd never been to a Seder, I wanted the evening to be interesting and informative.

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