This week, my colleague, Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, wrote an essay on the ReformJudaism.org site about the inclusion of an orange on the Seder plate.
To quote him in order to explain this custom:
In addition to the traditional symbols, many families and communities will include an orange on their seder plates. The most prominent myth behind this custom is that, years ago, a man confronted Professor Susannah Heschel and told her, “The idea of women rabbis makes as much sense as an orange on a seder plate."Rabbi Fuchs reminds readers that Professor Heschel has actually debunked this "myth," and explains that her real intention was to put the orange on the plate in honor of gay and lesbian Jews who have been marginalized.
But then Rabbi Fuchs suggests that the time has come to eliminate this symbol. He says:
But I believe our focus at the seder should be on telling our story. Though that story can and should reference other struggles for liberation, our seder plate is full enough without symbols that do not explicitly reference our liberation from bondage.And this is where I disagree. Yes. The focus at the seder should be on telling "our story."
But how can we tell that one story, that story of long ago, without connecting it directly to as many other stories that we have? How can we make this long-ago-tale of slavery relevant and understandable to each generation, to each individual participant at the table, if we don't remind ourselves of continued oppression in our midst?
I deny the idea that we have "arrived" in terms of gender equality, especially when taken on a worldwide level. I deny the idea that the presence of women on the North American Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist bima is "enough" when held up to other movements, other countries (read: Israel), and other aspects of society. Telling the story of the brave women who participated in the story of the Exodus is good. It is an important step in restoring equality to our storytelling. But merely to place those women back into the story without acknowledging how long it took to get them there? Merely to place them into the story without pointing out that their presence alone is a milestone for our people? I think this is missing the point of telling the tale of liberation.
The orange will remain on my seder plate, as a sign that we are always striving to help everyone to feel included, a sign that we are always looking out for those who might not feel that they "belong," and a sign that we are full of juicy vitality: always growing, always changing, and always aware, keenly aware, that our history of bondage requires us to tell those stories.