Seder at the home of Laura Ruderman, a former Washington State Representative, and her husband Craig Greenberg. Pictured are Laura’s mother Equal Rights Washington Board member Margaret Rothschild and Margaret’s husband George Heidorn.

I’ve just learned about this wonderful tradition.  Many progressive Jewish homes put an orange on the Passover seder plate as a symbol of solidarity with LGBT people.  Steven Goldstein, Executive Director for Garden State Equality, tells the story of the orange:

For those of you observing Passover tonight, and for those of you of any faith or none, invited to a seder tonight or tomorrow night, there is an LGBT theme you may want to mention or at least be aware of.

Many progressive Jewish homes put an orange on the seder plate.  The orange is a tradition only about 30 years old at a seder, itself a tradition thousands of years old in Judaism.

The story goes that Professor Susannah Heschel of Dartmouth, a progressive feminist Jewish studies scholar and daughter of one of the most famous rabbis in American Jewish history, created the idea of an orange on a seder plate to allow progressive Jewish families to show solidarity with women.  

According to the story, Professor Heschel heard an Orthodox rabbi say that women belong on the bimah – the stage at a synagogue – as much as an orange belongs on the seder plate, i.e. not at all.  So progressive Jewish homes like mine have put an orange on the seder plate ever since.

Well, it turns out the story behind on orange on the seder plate is an urban myth.  Professor Heschel actually created the tradition of an orange on the seder plate as a symbol of solidarity with LGBT people.  And until she pointed this out some years ago, many well-meaning progressive Jews, including me, didn’t know.

The story continues below..

So if you’re at a seder and you see an orange on the seder plate, the discussion about it may not be correct.  Of course, because we progressives support equality for everyone – there is no competition – at our seders the orange represents solidarity with women, LGBT people and particularly transgender people, people of color, the differently abled and other peoples denied equality.  

If you’re interested in what Professor Heschel herself has to say about all this, here goes.  This is from an email she sent around a while back…

“In the early 1980s, the Hillel Foundation invited me to speak on a panel at Oberlin College. While on campus, I came across a Haggadah that had been written by some Oberlin students to express feminist concerns. One ritual they devised was placing a crust of bread on the Seder plate, as a sign of solidarity with Jewish lesbians, a statement of defiance against a rebbetzin’s pronouncement that, ‘There’s as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate.’ At the next Passover, I placed an orange on our family’s Seder plate. During the first part of the Seder, I asked everyone to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit, and eat it as a gesture of solidarity with Jewish lesbians and gay men, and others who are marginalized within the Jewish community. Bread on the Seder plate brings an end to Pesach– it renders everything chametz (not kosher for Passover).

“And it suggests that being lesbian is being transgressive, violating Judaism. I felt that an orange was suggestive of something else: the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life. In addition, each orange segment had a few seeds that had to be spit out–a gesture of spitting out, repudiating the homophobia of Judaism. When lecturing, I often mentioned my custom as one of many new feminist rituals that have been developed in the last twenty years. Somehow, though, the typical patriarchal maneuver occurred: My idea of an orange and my intention of affirming lesbians and gay men were transformed. Now the story circulates that a man said to me that a woman belongs on the bimah as an orange on the Seder plate. A woman’s words are attributed to a man, and the affirmation of lesbians and gay men is simply erased. Isn’t that precisely what’s happened over the centuries to women’s ideas? And isn’t this precisely the erasure of their existence that gay and lesbian Jews continue to endure, to this day?”

I have no doubt that if Professor Heschel told this story today, she would say LGBT rather than lesbian and gay.

I wish all observing Chag Sameach!

B’shalom,

Steven

Al Friedes, 75, the father of Equal Rights Washington Executive Director Josh Friedes calls a seder for family and friends to order in Newton Massachusetts.  Al reclines, the traditional position for eating at the Passover meal.

The pictures in this diary were shared with me by Josh Friedes, Equal Rights Washington’s Executive Director.  Although the legislative session kept Josh in Washington state and he was unable to join his family for Passover (his dad is pictured left), he told me:

“The picture of my brother’s Passover table with oranges on the seder plates are a powerful reminder of the struggle for freedom that dates back thousands of years, the promise of liberation, and the responsibility of each generation to make the retelling of the Exodus relevant to the civil rights struggles of the current time.

“That my family participates in the tradition of placing an orange on the seder plate is yet another tangible example of how they demonstrate support for me personally and the LGBT community generally.  These small acts in families I believe are transformative. They create a public culture that is supportive of LGBT people and they let LGBT family members know that they are fully accepted.  During the course of the Passover Seder the symbolism of each item on the seder plate including the Orange is discussed.

“What traditions do you have in your family to show support for LGBT equality?” Equal Rights Washington asks on their Facebook page.  It’s a great question.  I’m going to have to ponder that one.  Maybe I’ll incorporate this idea into Thanksgiving dinner as a new family tradition.  An orange on the table would remind me to talk about how thankful I am for my loving and fair-minded friends and family, and perhaps remind them to consider the commitment to social justice I’ve brought into their world.  How about you?

Seder at the home of Laura Ruderman, a former Washington State Representative, and her husband Craig Greenberg. Pictured are Laura’s mother Equal Rights Washington Board member Margaret Rothschild and Margaret’s husband George Heidorn.

I’ve just learned about this wonderful tradition.  Many progressive Jewish homes put an orange on the Passover seder plate as a symbol of solidarity with LGBT people.  Steven Goldstein, Executive Director for Garden State Equality, tells the story of the orange:

For those of you observing Passover tonight, and for those of you of any faith or none, invited to a seder tonight or tomorrow night, there is an LGBT theme you may want to mention or at least be aware of.

Many progressive Jewish homes put an orange on the seder plate.  The orange is a tradition only about 30 years old at a seder, itself a tradition thousands of years old in Judaism.

The story goes that Professor Susannah Heschel of Dartmouth, a progressive feminist Jewish studies scholar and daughter of one of the most famous rabbis in American Jewish history, created the idea of an orange on a seder plate to allow progressive Jewish families to show solidarity with women.  

According to the story, Professor Heschel heard an Orthodox rabbi say that women belong on the bimah – the stage at a synagogue – as much as an orange belongs on the seder plate, i.e. not at all.  So progressive Jewish homes like mine have put an orange on the seder plate ever since.

Well, it turns out the story behind on orange on the seder plate is an urban myth.  Professor Heschel actually created the tradition of an orange on the seder plate as a symbol of solidarity with LGBT people.  And until she pointed this out some years ago, many well-meaning progressive Jews, including me, didn’t know.

The story continues below.. (more…)

Laurel Ramseyer

Laurel Ramseyer

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