Setting the Table with Via Maris
With Passover less than two weeks away (!) we reached out to Dana Hollar Schwartz, founder of modernist Judaica brand Via Maris, to hear more about why Judaicia is still important, what keeps Passover relevant (despite it being the oldest holiday in the Western world), and ideas for adding creativity to your Seder plate this season.
Tell us a bit about your professional background and how that led you to start Via Maris?
The idea for modern Judaica was on my mind for years while I searched unsuccessfully for Judaica that was my style and that I could connect with in a contemporary context (and picture in my own home). I asked friends where they were finding these objects and learned that most of them were in the same position: looking for ritual items but not finding them. This always struck me as something that needed to be fixed.
Judaica is central to our culture. You cannot celebrate Hanukkah without a Chanukiah and you cannot observe Shabbat without candles, or set a Seder table without a Seder Plate. It occurred to me that if the next generation of Jews did not have Judaica they could connect with, then many of our rituals and traditions might slowly disappear. I was seeing it firsthand when talking to friends. And I was seeing it in myself.
Towards the end of 2018, following the Tree of Life shooting and what was a very scary and violent holiday season in the New York area, I, like many Jewish people, was thinking more deeply about Jewish pride and the future of our culture.
I think the best way to fight antisemitism is to be a proud Jew and so the symbolism of Judaica came back into focus for me. I wanted to create modern Jewish objects that celebrated our culture, traditions, and rituals; a way for Jewish people, especially the next generation, to engage and re-engage with who they are. I spent about a year and half building Via Maris and the brand launched in 2020. Our mission is bigger than Judaica.
With Passover coming up, the Via Maris product we’re most excited about right now is the Seder plate. What was the design process like for making it? What does this particular plate mean to you?
Same! Along with our Shelter Mezuzah, our Seder Plate is my favorite object that we’ve made. Part of it has to do with how symbolic Passover is. It’s an honor to craft a piece of Judaica as important as the Seder Plate. I wanted to create one strong piece that could work on multiple tablescapes—whether your style is minimal, or traditional, or modern. I also wanted to create something modular, so people could enjoy it after Passover has ended.
I use mine year-round for mezze, dips, snacks, you name it. Being a New Yorker, I’m always conscious of space (or lack thereof) and I like designing Judaica that can be used beyond its sole holiday purpose. This piece is made in Oregon and took about a year to develop. To me, a Seder Plate has always felt like a real “adult” piece of Judaica.
Passover represents new beginnings, resilience, and memory, and these are all traits I hope come through in our design.
When we think about Passover, we think about the relationship between food, stories, and community. What makes this holiday meaningful for you?
Passover is my favorite holiday. I think that’s because it’s celebrated at home with family and friends, and the Seder itself is like theater. Each year the Seder presents new ways to talk about what is happening in the world. It’s the oldest continuously observed holiday in the Western world, but it always feels relevant and timely.
Growing up, we attended a Seder at a friend’s house every year. It was huge, probably around 60 people coming together. Of course, no dining room can accommodate 60 people, so the Seder table would zigzag throughout the entire first floor of the house—through the kitchen and living room, up through the library, into the foyer, and around the dining room! It was dramatic and epic and full of meaning. This home, this table, accommodating everyone. These are the types of memories I hope Via Maris Judaica can be a part of and the types of experiences I hope to pass down myself one day.
Any hosting tips + tricks you’d like to share for OneTable Seder hosts?
If you’re hosting a large amount of people, I like to use multiple Seder plates. No one wants to be on the end without the centerpiece! My rule of thumb is one seder Plate for every 6 people. Multiple Seder plates also allow you to experiment with what goes on the plate itself. There are so many modern additions and interpretations, and having multiple plates allows you to be creative. I usually have one traditional Seder plate and 2-3 modern interpretations that include oranges in support of the LGBTQ community, a beet instead of a bone, flowers or seeds instead of an egg, a dish of salt, olives to symbolize peace, or an artichoke that recognizes interfaith families. I lways set a Kiddush cup out for Miriam. We offer one with a recycled glass pink rim as a nod to her and women everywhere.