Ukraine’s most famous national food is borscht, for which the main ingredient is beetroot.
Rabbi Igor Zinkov of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, who is Co-Chair of the World Union/European Union of Progressive Judaism Ukraine Emergency Support Fund, writes:
The story of Pesach is the story of freedom – and we will all be praying for those in Ukraine to be free this Passover. Many of us feel helpless in the face of what is happening, but all of us placing a beetroot on the seder plate is a powerful symbol of solidarity. The Hebrew for beetroot is selek (סלק), which resembles the word for retreat, yistalku (יסתלקו). At our seder, we will eat the beetroot after the bitter herbs are consumed and say the following prayer:
May it be Your will, Eternal God, that all the enemies who might beat us will retreat (yistalku), and we will beat a path to freedom.
Ukraine is a major grower of sunflowers, exporting sunflower oil around the world. Russia’s war against Ukraine has had a devastating impact on people and homes, on cities, towns and villages, on utilities and the economy, including, agriculture. The sunflower seeds on the seder plate are another way of expressing our solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
The shoelaces on the seder plate are there to remind us of all those in flight from persecution and destitution, tyranny and war across the world today. Let us take a moment now to think of them.
It is not enough that the symbols on the seder plate just remind us that we were once slaves. We should also have something symbolizing the fact that people are enslaved around the world today. I chose the onion for several reasons – but the main one is just that the onion is a basic but non-noticed ingredient of many food-stuff just as those that are exploited/ abused/ enslaved are the ones who hold up the economy, but remain unseen…
Nicky Lachs, Jerusalem
A RED CHILLI
The red chilli on the seder plate is there to remind us of the burning world and of the catastrophic effects of climate change. As we pause to reflect on our impact as human beings on the planet and to think of melting ice caps and the destruction caused by fires and floods over the past year, let us resolve to take responsibility for doing what we can to repair the earth, our only home.
Dr. Susannah Heschel tells the story of the genesis of this ritual in the 2003 book, The Women’s Passover Companion (JPL). It began with a story about a young girl who asks a Rebbe what room there is in Judaism for a lesbian. The Rebbe rises in anger and shouts:
“There’s as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate.”
Besides the fact that a piece of bread would make everything un-kosher for Pesach, a piece of bread on the seder plate would carry a message that lesbians were a violation of Judaism itself, that they were infecting the community with something impure. So, the next year, Heschel put an orange on the seder plate “because it suggests the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life.” The symbolism grew to include people who feel marginalized from the Jewish community, in particular LGBTQ+ people. The orange is a beacon of justice, equality and human rights.
The Torah narrates that when Noah sent out a dove from the Ark in search of dry land, she returned with a freshly plucked olive leaf in her mouth (Genesis 8:10-11). Since that time, the olive tree has been a symbol of hope and peace.
Sadly, in recent years, the destruction of Palestinian olive trees by Israeli settlers has been destroying the hope of a just peace between two peoples whose roots in the land that divides them are deeper even than those of the most ancient olive tree.
The olives on the seder plate remind us that we cannot celebrate our ancestors’ liberation from slavery in Egypt without acknowledging that today the Palestinian people are not yet free. As we eat the olives tonight at our sacred seder, let us commit ourselves to support those courageous individuals and groups amongst the Israelis and the Palestinians who are working for peace and justice, dignity and security for both peoples.