In this week’s Two Voices, we ask what brand new item you’d have on your seder plate?
Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz says…
There’s something magical about the seder plate. It’s a bit like a time machine, not unlike Dr Who’s Tardis or the alethiometer from Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.
Its symbols allow us to look into the past (remembering our oppression as a people), into the future (the redemption of the entire world) and the present moment: what do the matzah, shank bone, hard-boiled eggs, parsley, salt water, horseradish and charoset say about our experiences today? The power of each symbol is in its double meaning.
The matzah is both halachma anya, the bread of our affliction, as well as the bread of freedom.
The new item I’d add would be a passport. It represents freedom, citizenship, empowerment, as well as the very opposite: exclusion, subjugation and disempowerment. In a democracy, we do not have to be beholden to the Pharaohs of this world.
Yet passports open doors and shut borders. If you don’t have the right passport, you’re counted out: immigrants, refugees or the poor. Pesach calls us to ponder what citizenship means to us as Jews: to be equal before the law.
A passport on the seder plate tells us how precarious our blessings of a free society are. We have to fight for that consciousness anew in each generation.
•Esther Hugenholtz is a rabbi at Sinai Synagogue
David-Yehuda Stern says…
I would add a pocket diary. The traditional seder plate with all its items helps us to tell a sensory story of Israelite liberation out of bondage in Egypt. It was not only a physical enslavement but a spiritual one.
Today we enjoy many different types of freedom but we must also be aware ‘freedom’ itself can be a barrier to enjoying the very rights for which the Israelites desperately struggled.
Today, in the 21st century, perhaps more than any other point in history, is a moment where we are afforded a tremendous amount of choice and control over our personal, professional and recreational pursuits.
The difficulty in deciding what to do and when to do it is no longer a struggle based on limitations but on the immense control we have over our lives.
I feel very fortunate to have the freedom to make decisions about how I use my time based on my own needs, wants and desires.
A pocket diary can act as a reminder that with the freedom to choose which tasks fill our calendars comes a responsibility to use our time wisely.
This means making decisions that bring us closer to our fellows and empower us to maintain the spiritual freedom the Israelites won long ago.
•David-Yehuda Stern is head of education at Alyth (North Western Reform Synagogue)