New flicks with celebs in interfaith relationships and from interfaith backgrounds, plus their baby news!Go To Pop Culture
We love Mo Willems books in our house! My little one just brought home one of his gazillions of titles called, I Really Like Slop. As I have written before, I now see the world through interfaith family lenses. When we read this story, all I could think about was interfaith couples at Passover! How in the world did I make that leap?
The book tells the story of Piggie presenting her friend Gerald, the elephant, with a pot of her slop. Gerald looks at the smelly concoction with trepidation. He asks some questions about the make-up of the slop. Piggie begs him to try some. She explains that itâ€™s part of Pig culture! Gerald touches his tongue to the slop and chokes and gags. Piggie asks Gerald if he likes it. Gerald explains that he does not like it, but he does like Piggie. And he is happy he tried it.
As are all of Mo Willemsâ€™ books, this story is precious and even poignant. It made me think about someone who didnâ€™t grow up with, letâ€™s say, gefilte fish, being presented with it for the first time at a Passover seder. This person is no doubt sitting with a significant other at their parentsâ€™ house, surrounded by family and trying to fit in and make a good impression. This person is trying to avoid any cultural faux pas. They may be worried that the haggadah (the book read during the Passover meal) will be read aloud going around the table and that there will be unfamiliar words and transliterated Hebrew to navigate (on four cups of wine, no less). And, now this person is presented with this foreign, kind of smelly food, with a gel-like substance wiggling around on top.
If you were brought up with this food and donâ€™t like it, it is easier to dismiss it. But, for a newcomer, how does one politely excuse themselves from trying it? (Especially if is homemade. This usually makes it a lot better than if itâ€™s cold from the jarâ€”although some people love that. Who am I to yuck your yum, as my childâ€™s feeding therapist implores.)
What Piggie and Gerald teach us is that we donâ€™t have to like our partnerâ€™s cultural things. They donâ€™t have to become ours. We donâ€™t have to feel comfortable eating the food or donning certain garb. We donâ€™t automatically have to feel comfortable with the language, traditions or dances. Maybe after experience and time, we will come to like things. We will make them our own. But, maybe we never will. And, thatâ€™s OK. Showing respect, asking questions, learning about and even trying aspects important to our loved ones is what matters.
Happy prepping for Passover!
If you, like me, are past the age of 40, you may remember years ago hearing the claim that Little Mikey of LIFE cereal fame died from the explosive effects of mixing Pop Rocks candy with soda pop. Or you may have heard that childrenâ€™s television show host Mr. Rogers (Fred Rodgers) always wore long-sleeved shirts and sweaters on his show to conceal the tattoos on his arms he obtained while serving in the military. Or perhaps youâ€™ve heard that alligators live under the New York City sewer system. But, in reality, none of these stories are true. Theyâ€™re all â€śurban legends.â€ť And Iâ€™m proud to say that I never believed any of them (well, except the one about Mikey and Pop Rocksâ€”I did believe that one for awhileâ€¦).
But thereâ€™s another urban legend, one connected to the Passover seder, that Iâ€™ve believed for years. In fact, Iâ€™ve told this story many times at my own seders. Itâ€™s the story of the â€śorange on the seder plate.â€ť And until this week, I always thought the story I told was trueâ€”after all, Iâ€™d heard it so many times, and read it in so many different places.
The story goes something like this: Professor Susannah Heschel was giving a lecture in Miami Beach, when a man stood up and yelled: â€śA woman belongs on a bimah like an orange belongs on a seder plate.â€ť In order to show that women DO belong on the bimahâ€”that women have the right to a place in Jewish ritual and in Jewish leadershipâ€”Heschel and others began to place oranges on their seder plates. (According to another version of the story, the man yelled: â€śA woman belongs on the bimah like a piece of bread belongs on the seder plate.â€ť Wanting to make a point about womenâ€™s rightful place in Judaism, but not wanting to place bread, which is forbidden on Passover, on her seder plate, Heschel replaced â€śbreadâ€ť with â€śan orange,â€ť since the incident took place in Florida, â€śThe Orange State.â€ť)
I learned the story of â€śthe orange on the seder plateâ€ť sometime in the late 1990s, when I was a rabbinical student. At the time I was in my early 30s, hosting my own seders for the first time.Â Like many of my colleagues, I strived to make my seders authentic, relevant and meaningful by balancing tradition with creativity and innovation. I embraced the traditional symbols of the seder (the four cups of wine, matzah, egg, parsley, etc.) and also newer symbols, such as Miriamâ€™s Cup and the orange. For the past 15 years or so, when Iâ€™ve gone to the produce store to buy parsley, horseradish and apples and nuts for my charoset, Iâ€™ve made sure to purchase an orange for my seder plate as well. And at every seder Iâ€™ve hosted, Iâ€™ve shared the â€śstory of the orange on the seder plateâ€ť and how it represents womenâ€™s equality in Judaism.
But recently I found out that the story Iâ€™ve been telling simply isnâ€™t true. Hereâ€™s the TRUE STORY, in Professor Susannah Heschelâ€™s own words, from an article that she wrote for The Jewish Daily Forward in 2013:
â€śAt an early point in the sederâ€¦I asked each person to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit and eat the segment in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews and of widows, orphans, Jews who are adopted and all others who sometimes feel marginalized in the Jewish community.
â€śWhen we eat that orange segment, we spit out the seeds to repudiate homophobia and we recognize that in a whole orange, each segment sticks together. Oranges are sweet and juicy and remind us of the fruitfulness of gay and lesbian Jews and of the homosociality that has been such an important part of Jewish experience, whether of men in yeshivas or of women in the Ezrat Nashim.â€ť
Heschel went on to write of the Miami Beach lecture urban legend:
â€śThat incident never happened! Instead, my custom had fallen victim to a folktale process in which my original intention was subverted. My idea of the orange was attributed to a man, and my goal of affirming lesbians and gay men was erased.
â€śMoreover, the power of the custom was subverted: By now, women are on the bimah, so there is no great political courage in eating an orange, because women ought to be on the bimah.
â€śFor years, I have known about women whose scientific discoveries were attributed to men, or who had to publish their work under a male pseudonym. That it happened to me makes me realize all the more how important it is to recognize how deep and strong patriarchy remains, and how important it is for us to celebrate the contributions of gay and lesbian Jews, and all those who need to be liberated from marginality to centrality. And Passover is the right moment to ensure freedom for all Jews.â€ť
Iâ€™m glad to have finally learned the â€śtrue storyâ€ť of â€śthe orange on the seder plate.â€ť And now that I know it, will I still put an orange on MY seder plate this Passover? I sure will! But, like Professor Heschel, Iâ€™ll invite each of the participants at my seder to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit that grows on treesÂ and eat the segment in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews and of widows, orphans, Jews who are adopted, interfaith couples and families and all others who sometimes feel marginalized in the Jewish community.
After all, the Passover seder is very much a time for asking questions (for the importance of questions in the Passover sederâ€”beyond the â€śFour Questionsâ€ťâ€”see my blog from last year about the seder). And if Iâ€™ve learned anything from discovering the truth about the urban legend of the â€śorange on the seder plate,â€ť itâ€™s that we need to constantly be questioning: even those things that weâ€™re confident we already â€śknow.â€ť