So. I learned something new at the women’s seder. I learned that there is now an orange on many seder plates around the world. Why an orange? It’s sort of complicated but here’s the link to The Background to the Background of the Orange on the Seder Plate and a Ritual of Inclusion by Deborah Eisehnbach-Budner and Alex Borns-Weil. In case the whole Megillah is not for you at the moment, I offer the Cliff Notes version here:
Our story begins… “In 1984, a group of eight young feminists at Oberlin College created “A Women’s Haggadah.”” There were 200 women at the seder and they wanted to use language that included the voices of the women who had come before them in Judaism. Part of the inclusion they sought was inclusion for lesbians and gays.
Included in their hagaddah was a short story written by Susan Fielding, now Shifra Lilith Freewoman. The story told about a young Jewish lesbian whose hasidic rebbe told her that “there is as much place for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for chometz at the Seder table.” Clearly, this was not meant to be anything other than exclusionary.
The women of the seder were left to find a way to incorporate a response to this into the ritual they were creating. The only firm guideline was that the resulting action must be in keeping with a kosher seder. They decided to create an additional place on the seder plate. This place would be “for all who have been condemned and excluded because of fear or ignorance.”
The women also included a blessing: “Blessed are You Who helps us to discard fears, and gives us strength to repair mistakes; Who teaches us how to make distinctions, and enables us to make connections.”
So how did the orange wind up on the seder plate? Susannah Heschel (editor of On Being A Jewish Feminist) visited Oberlin soon after that first women’s seder. She heard about the seder and at first thought they had included hametz – something that is not permitted – on the seder plate. Ultimately, it was she who put an orange on the seder plate. The orange was placed there to symbolize the inclusion of gays and lesbians.
Since that time, many have robbed the orange of it’s original symbolism by having it stand for all women or some other subset of individuals. The original intent has always been to represent gays and lesbians at the seder.
Perhaps you’ll join my family this year in including an orange on your seder plate and the new blessing this year at your seder.