Around OneTable: Passover with Be’chol Lashon & Haggadot.com
Did you know that the first night of Passover 2019 is a Friday? BECAUSE WE DID. Time to gather around the Friday night table, this time adding some of your favorite Passover themes, discussions, and intentions to your Seder-Shabbat celebration.
So, we got together with some of the incredible folks at Be’chol Lashon and Haggadot.com to talk all things Seder. And wow, there’s so much to talk about when it comes to this holiday! Passover is the festival of freedom that tells the story of the Israelites escaping enslavement in Egypt. We commemorate this movement towards justice with rituals like seder plates and haggadot.
Defining some terms:
Seder means “order.”
Haggadah (plural: haggadot) literally translates to “telling.” It is the script for the night and every family has their own preferred version.
Seder plates are the centerpiece of the evening and the haggadah will lead you through the sensory objects on the plate as a tool to make you feel as if you yourself are coming out of Egypt into freedom.
WHO WE ARE
Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder: Rabbi-in-Residence and the Director of Education for Be’chol Lashon
Eileen Levinson: Founder & Executive Creative Director of Haggadot.com
Lindsey Newman: Program Manager and NY Regional Director at Be’chol Lashon
Al Rosenberg (Moderator): Director of Marketing & Communications for OneTable
Sarit Wishnevski: Associate Director for Community Partnerships at OneTable
STARTING OFF EASY, FAVORITE PASSOVER FOOD?
Eileen: GEFILTE FISH
Sarit: ^^Out the gate Eileen! So supportive of that
Al: controversial – jarred or fresh?
Eileen: All of it. I love it jarred. I love it fresh. I love the frozen bricks you put in the oven. I LOVE GEFILTE FISH
Lindsey: My favorite has always been brisket
Rabbi Ruth: My favorite is charoset. I love having a bunch of different types from around the world and using the leftovers to spread on matza throughout the holiday
Sarit: I’m all about Charoset, for seders and the days after…an awesome topping for Matzo Brei
SPEAKING OF CHAROSET — WHAT KIND DO YOU MAKE?
Lindsey: my family usually has at least 2 different types. One traditional Ashkenazi- with walnuts, apples, wine, cinnamon; and one from another region in the world, like a Sephardic recipe with all of the above plus chopped dried apricots and dates fruits
Sarit: I grew up with the walnut apple cinnamon sweet wine version but now i make several each year with different dried fruits, orange, and silan (date syrup)
Rabbi Ruth: I make a Ugandan version with includes peanuts and bananas, an Indian version which is a thick date sauce, a personal version which includes a blood orange which reminds us of the blood sweat and tears that went into the hard work. And I just learned that there is an Italian tradition of making blood orange-almond charoset!
Eileen Levinson: YUM
Sarit Wishnevski: Rabbi Ruth that sounds AMAZING (minus the blood and sweat 😂 )
Eileen Levinson: Walnuts, wine, apples, cinnamon. Chopped to the consistency of chopped liver
Rabbi Ruth: Having several types of charoset is a great way to remind people that the Jewish story is really a global one. One family I know puts flags in (the charoset) for each country.
SEDER PLATE: WHAT SYMBOLS DO YOU ALWAYS INCLUDE ON YOURS? DO YOU GO “TRADITIONAL” OR ADD A LOT OF “ALTERNATIVES”?
Eileen: Can we consider the orange traditional at this point?
I’d love to see every Seder table with an orange 😉 I wonder if by keeping it in the category of alternative, the symbolism behind it gets somewhat delegitimized.
Rabbi Ruth: We always put the orange on the plate. There are several stories of why it is there but all of them point to inclusion and I feel that it is a perfect symbol of inclusion because there are separate parts in one whole.
Lindsey: We use the orange too and a Miriam’s cup
Rabbi Ruth: I love the idea of adding, but always walk a careful line between wanting to do it all and realizing that we don’t want to go too far or we lose the focus. It is a balance between innovation and tradition.
Lindsey: I like to think of my plate as traditional+
Eileen: I also like the idea of adding a second alternative plate. That way tradition and innovation live together.
Sarit: We don’t add to the seder plate, but I’ve been asking my family to bring something to put on the table that reminds them of their personal freedoms and then to share about them
Lindsey: I like the idea of personalizing and making the seder meaningful to people’s contemporary lives as much as possible
Rabbi Ruth: I heard about a family where someone brought a diaphragm and talked about how contraception helped her feel liberated.
THE HAGGADAH — TRADITIONS, CHANGES, ADDITIONS?
Eileen: I almost always make a new one, but I guess that’s my job 😉
Rabbi Ruth: If I’m using a pre-printed version I’m partial to Noam Zion’s A Different Night because it has transliteration and lots of commentary for when people get bored or want to add.
Sarit: We use the Maxwell House one as our base and then everyone brings their own to add to the conversation and learning. I made my own a few years back on Haggadot.com and it’s become a staple for me!
Lindsey: In my family we’ve always created our own haggadah and made sure to include contemporary references that added meaning to the holiday. At Be’chol Lashon we’ve also created a bunch of resources to remind us of how diversity can be highlighted during the seder. One of my favorites is Welcoming All: An Inclusive Passover Reading
Rabbi Ruth: We have introduced the Middle Eastern tradition of hitting each other (gently) with scallions to simulate the hardships of the ancient enslaved Israelites
Eileen: One of my favorite readings that I try to include every year is the Four Adults
Sarit: I love that one, Eileen!! Also there was a clip from Haggadot with the Four Daughters that I’m really into
Rabbi Ruth: It is also great to tell some of the more modern Jewish Exodus stories like that of the Jews of Uganda who were liberated from the dictatorship of Idi Amin at Passover
STORYTELLING — WHAT OTHER STORIES COULD/SHOULD WE TELL AS PART OF PASSOVER?
Lindsey: There are so many parallel stories of freedom and liberation, both within the jewish community and without.
Rabbi Ruth: The story of the Ethiopian Jews is generally well known but telling it from an Ethiopian perspective shifts it and helps better understand the meaning of liberation. Ethiopian born Israeli American filmmaker Avishai Mekonen has written on this
Lindsey: For example, I know that in some Ethiopian Jewish homes it’s traditional to tell their personal family’s journey of exodus to Israel
Eileen: I love opportunities for everyone to imagine their personal experiences of freedom / liberation
Rabbi Ruth: It is important to keep in mind that not every feels fully free, and it can be helpful to think about where are we still enslaved or oppressed
Lindsey: Freedom is also hugely influenced by storytelling and narrative– a big part of being a truly liberated people is being able to tell your own story on your terms
Sarit: When I’ve had the opportunity I like to explore our freedom to be Jewish in our country, and how we find ourselves at the seder table every year – and for me it’s also about my freedom to choose to be at the table and how not everyone has (or historically has had) choice
Al: We’ll be talking a lot this year at my table about lgbtqia+ freedoms, and lack thereof, in our own country and outside it, and how that intersects with race and religion in so many ways
Eileen: I love this activity from David Wolkin which invites everyone at the table to consider their personal freedom / oppression, and then empathize with each other.
Sarit: I love this from Wolkin’s activity: “It’s a common experience. We all have those things that we wish we could change, that hold us back just a little bit. We want to be freed of them. All too often, we convince ourselves that we’re alone in these struggles, but through making ourselves vulnerable with a bit of communal disclosure, we discover that nothing could be further from the truth.” — Isn’t that what the seder is in part? A chance to come together communally, learn, explore, support, celebrate!
Eileen: Absolutely. I find it really moving to recognize that we still live in a world that is not entirely free, but by being together and celebrating in ways that we can, we can work together for a better world.
Lindsey: I love that! Sarit I love that you highlighted all of those things– learning, exploring, supporting, celebrating. I think those are all equally important and we’re able to do those best when we are able to bring every part of ourselves and our personal stories and experiences to the table (pun intended)
LESSONS — WHAT WILL YOU TAKE FROM PASSOVER THIS YEAR?
Rabbi Ruth: We have been talking about how freedom does not come from asking for it nicely and then being granted freedom. It is an ongoing process that takes pushing against the system, getting turned down, pushing back and taking chances. You have to celebrate victories when they come, even if they are not the full freedom that you hope to eventually gain by arriving in the promised land. This is something that helps me keep going through the year as we work on racial justice which has had some victories but where there is still so much work to do.
Sarit: I really appreciate that Rabbi Ruth! Sometimes you need to fight for change and freedom. I was also thinking about the themes of Spring and Renewal – which feel like an important space that’s carved out to reinvigorate us for the work ahead…or just for a new season 💐 ☀️
WE EAT MATZAH TO REMEMBER THAT THE JEWS HAD NO TIME TO BAKE THEIR BREAD BEFORE RUSHING TO LEAVE EGYPT. WHAT DO YOU CARRY WITH YOU? WHAT ARE YOU TOO RUSHED TO DO?
Eileen: I carry a sense of responsibility for others with me and general love for the power of community. I sometimes find myself too rushed in my own day-to-day to zoom out and see myself as part of the bigger picture, and have gratitude. I often feel like Passover gives me the boost to do that. But also, if I were about to wander the desert for 40 years, I’d bring sunscreen 😉
Rabbi Ruth: That is a tough question. I carry so much. Even when change happens the old narratives of enslavement shape my current reality and there is not enough time in the world to change them completely. But the crossover between Passover and Shabbat means that we really need to stop, take a deep breath and be where we are and celebrate what we have accomplished. Let go of the not finishing.
Lindsey: I think sometimes when we are trying to make change, it can be hard to be reminded of how long it might actually take, and that sitting in the discomfort before change occurs (like the Israelites wandering the desert for 40 years) is just as important. That a lot of times it’s not possible to just to the solution, without the struggle
Sarit: In the era of #selfcare I feel like my “too rushed to do” list is so long (time to read books, time to go to the gym more, time to learn a new language, etc..) but then I’m also thinking about being “too rushed to”: sit down with my family more, engage in long conversations without looking at the clock, and invest time into my growing my Jewish/spiritual side
Rabbi Ruth: Lindsey, that is such an important point, which is highlighted by the fact that the generation that left Egypt did not make it into the promised land, we might not always see the fruit of our labor.
Eileen: Rabbi Ruth thanks for bringing that up. Our Jewish narratives can be such a source of strength, and it’s important to not keep a victim narrative, nor believe that all struggles are completely in the past
WHAT QUESTIONS ARE YOU BRINGING TO YOUR OWN TABLES?
Sarit: Total honesty moment: I’ve been trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to change my family’s traditional seder and for the last few years I’ve been either hosting or going to another seder for one of the nights to infuse something new into old tradition. I really want to ask the friends and family at my parent’s seder “why do you feel this is important to do every year?” It’s one of the biggest investments of time we make on the Jewish calendar and I’m curious how we sustain and nourish the tradition beyond “we do it because we do it”
Eileen: That could lead to a series of additional “why” questions depending on the responses
Sarit: Right? Like let’s reset the “purpose” (gonna P.O.P. my seder this year 😂)
Rabbi Ruth: Sarit you are voicing something that many of us feel, especially when it comes to generational change and taking charge of running our own Seders, not just attending our parents’ or grandparents’. Answering the why would make for a great conversation and often I find if we push beyond the first answer by following up with a second or third round of why we get to some deep truths.
Sarit: Totally, I know we ask “why” the whole night, but if you don’t stray from the script/Maxwell House Haggadah – do you actually get to a meaningful why?
Rabbi Ruth: One of the positive elements I like about reading the stories of Uganda and Ethiopia is that when I read them I feel more connected to a broader global vision of Jewish peoplehood and that makes the rest of the ritual feel like a link across time and space.
Lindsey: I love that too. I think in Judaism we often have the “what,” because there are so many ritual pieces to it, but I also feel I could stand some more discussion of “why” in my personal and communal practice of Judaism
Eileen: And ritual is something that we actively choose, rather than something forced upon us. We continue to make “design” choices throughout the process in service of connection.
Rabbi Ruth: One of the messages of Passover is that it should not be blind ritual but ritual with explanation, question, and discussion. It is a model of how we can engage at any time. Another element of the meaning of matza is that the levening is like the ego, it inflates us and only when we let go of the ego can we move towards collective liberation