Wouldn’t it be better for all us — Palestinians and Israelis — to be in the mindset of Sinai rather than in the mindset of the Egyptian enslavement? (Jerry Haber, The Magnes Zionist, “Observing Passover When Still Enslaved“)
Genevieve Sideleau “Covered “, 2006
(Sweater Project Series I)
Making a knitted seder this year was more than simply producing copies of the common elements of the Passover seder, or re-producing tradition. It was also an opportunity for thinking through what makes a seder a seder, how tradition works, how religious traditions are made, and the relationship between family and religious tradition
My sister and I faithfully served recipes from our family’s archives: the Ashkenaz charoset recipe we’d grown up with, Aunt Zena’s sweet potato pudding, Nana’s Brisket, and so on. What surprise we created as we changed the the menu – that dense, spicy Yemenite date paste my sister presented years caused quite a stir), the year I started adding ginger and parsely to my matzoh balls forever changed our views on this staple of the Passover meal, and the year we stopped serving the favorite chocolate torte on account of cholesterol challenges practically brought tears to the eyes of some of us. My approach to the knitted seder was similarly open. (More photos of my “knitted seder” are available here).
The Exodus as a metaphor – and the extensive history of Passover observance – speak volumes to me about Jewish experience of living in the world, about a history of anti-Semitism, and Jewish response to it. This is the essential meaning of the holiday, as a creative response to the challenges of persecution since late antiquity. It was this meaning I tried to share with my family, and which I sought to explore, as I prepared for – and tikkunknitted – the holiday this year.
So at our second seder, we began to discuss revising our seder plate …
We discussed the origins and implications of Passover’s traditional symbols and traditions, and also the possibility of making new symbols and traditions. Like others, we added an orange and olives to the seder plate – the orange expresses the modern progressive Jewish approach to gender equality in Jewish life and ritual practice (observed by many Reform and Reconstructionist Jews), and the olives … to acknowledge the destruction of Palestinian olive trees by Israeli authorities (a business completely prohibited by Torah!), and the need to reach a just peace with this people displaced by the creation of the state of Israel. We also explored some of the problematic aspects of the narrative of the plagues, how the annual recitation of the Maggid may contribute to ethnic conflict and impede peace-building in the Jewish community.
Next year perhaps I’ll add a knitted beet to the plate, to acknowledge the sensitivities of the vegetarians at the table (Talmid is often cited in support of this alternative custom – see Pesachim 114b for a discussion of the use of the beet or yam). At my sister’s seder, I’ll suggest adding a potato to the seder plate, to acknowledge Jewish loss during WWII, rather than using the copies of the Israel Haggadah brought by her in-laws (though there are enough copies to go around our (fortunately) large table). It’s and explicitly Zionist tract that makes me very uncomfortable, and the possibility of avoiding it might just be the stimulus to produce that Haggadah I’ve been promising my family for decades.
While I have no desire to reside in the real Jerusalem, perhaps these changes will create a seder space in which I’ll be comfortable toasting a final cup of Passover wine to “next year in the spiritual Jerusalem” that is possible if we allow ourselves to create the new symbols and traditions that might build the freedom that was the promise of Sinai described in the Exodus narrative, the peace within our community, and the peace with neighbors.