Our Pesach seder plate and Haggadah tell us what “must” be on our Passover holiday table – the shank bone, bitter herbs, matzah, parsley, salt water, roasted egg, charoset, and wine.  In addition, what meal we serve is often set by family traditions that go back for decades in many homes.  That’s the beauty of traditions around family events.

As our cultures change and we learn more from and about each other, items have been added by many people in our community – especially those who are open to making our Judaism relevant to our modern experiences.  The Passover seder items each symbolize something important to be remembered.  For example, charoset is a symbolic reminder of the mortar used by our ancestors as slaves in Egypt.  So, it is natural that other items have been added over time to modernize our symbols, especially those that remind us of other marginalized or forgotten groups of people.

Your family may have added an orange to your seder plate to represent marginalized groups in society, such as the LGBTQIA community.  There are wonderful explanations on this across the internet, so I won’t go into them here.

Then there is the addition of Miriam’s Cup, next to Elijah’s cup which has traditionally sat on our tables.  Although Elijah’s cup is filled with wine awaiting the arrival of this prophet for all of us, Miriam’s cup is there to remind us of the role of Moses’ sister in the Exodus story.  Miriam is often considered in relation to water, reminding us of her roles in our Passover story, from watching over Moses in his basket in the Nile River to her ability to finding water throughout the desert the Israelites traveled as they wandered for so many years.  Upon her death, it is believed that her well in the desert dried up as well.

SO – what am I adding this year?  I have found something new to add to my table and I am excited to share it with you.  Although I’ve always had hot tea and coffee available to drink for everyone, now I will be adding a cup of hot tea right in the middle of the seder tablet, next to the seder plate and the four cups of wine.

Why am I adding such a mundane item?  I’m glad you asked!  This year I read a story written in 2016 about women’s seders on the Jewish Women’s Archive website.  As our annual Women’s Seder (aka Her Seder) was canceled for this year, I was starting to feel nostalgic about such events.  The story I read included the part of how it is truly the unsung women of the Exodus story that are the real heroines to think about – that without them, there would be no story to tell.  Our Sisterhood’s Her Seder includes our telling of the story of Shifra and Puah, the midwives who defied the decree to commit infanticide at the deliveries of the Hebrew women.  They refused to follow this command by the Pharoah, following their own consciences instead.  Without their strength and determination to do what was right regardless of the danger they were under by disobeying the law, Moses would likely not have even been alive to accomplish all that we celebrate at Passover.

Hot tea is a great symbol for these women.  Eleanor Roosevelt has said “A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water”.  So, this year, to remind us of this statement and the amazing strength and fortitude of the midwives Shifra and Puah, I will be placing a mug of very hot water on the table, with a fresh tea bag in it.  As the tea bag is exposed to the hot water, the tea will get stronger and stronger – reminding us of all people who have stood up with strength and determination to stand against tyrants and do what they know is the right thing, no matter what.

Published by jesschasen

Temple Emanuel Sisterhood - Past President 2019-2020 Temple Emanuel - Interim Executive Director

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