Starting March 27th, my favorite Jewish holiday begins, Passover. Occurring for a week each spring, this holiday commemorates the Jewish people escaping from Egyptian slavery. A common tradition is for families to gather on the first night for a special dinner called a Seder, where the Passover narrative is retold. A Passover Seder plate is utilized throughout the retelling of the story, traditionally containing six food items. But in recent years, a seventh food item has been included, an orange.
Why do some people include an orange on the Seder plate?
The inclusion of an orange is in recognition of LGBTQ+ Jews, who are often marginalized and underrepresented in the Jewish community. Each person takes a segment of the orange and spits out the seeds as a rejection of homophobia.
This ritual was started by Professor Susannah Heschel in the early 1980s, when she spoke at Oberlin College’s Hillel. She was introduced to the idea of adding bread’s crust to the Seder plate instead, and although she wanted to include a symbol of solidarity, she felt like crust was not the way to go. Bread is not eaten during Passover, and by putting it on a Seder plate, it could be interpreted as a symbol of violation. Instead, she offered up the idea of an orange, which represents the fruitfulness for all Jews when LGBTQ+ individuals contribute to Jewish life. Heschel was a pioneer for Jewish feminism by preaching the importance of inclusivity.
But, the orange’s meaning has been radically altered through the story’s telling. The story that many have heard (including myself) is that Heschel was denounced by a man who said women belong on the bimah (the podium in a synagogue where prayers are led) as much as an orange belongs on a Seder plate. Therefore, many view the inclusion of an orange as a symbol of gender equality within the Jewish community. When I learned the actual meaning behind the orange, I was shocked. Although recognizing women’s rights is immensely important, this fictional story further erases the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in Judaism.
If you celebrate Passover, consider placing an orange on the Seder plate as a symbol of inclusivity. It’s important to actively acknowledge those in our community who feel marginalized. It’s also important to share the true story behind the orange and why it is beyond necessary to include LGBTQ+ individuals in the Jewish community. No one’s Jewishness should be called into question based on their sexuality.