Passover incorporates three things I love: food, family, and storytelling. From having seders at a bustling table with my campus Hillel to holding up my Seder plate on a Zoom screen at virtual seders, I have always felt connected to the words of the Haggadah and the symbolic foods in front of me.
This year, Passover, or Pesach, begins at sunset on Friday, April 15th and ends on the evening of Saturday, April 23rd. The holiday commemorates our exodus from Egypt and God’s act of “passing over” the houses of Israelites during the tenth plague. Now, over three thousand years later, Jews from across the world gather around the seder table to tell the story of our liberation from slavery.
So, what goes on that seder table?
Next to each place setting, there is a copy of the Haggadah, the booklet that contains the story of Passover. Each member at the table will read from the book throughout the night and traditionally, the youngest person will read the four questions that guide the Passover story. Each setting should also have a wine glass, as the Haggadah instructs us to drink four glasses.
At the center of the table, we place the Seder plate, a decorative plate that has six labeled spaces for the symbolic foods. Arranged in a circle, there is a shank bone, a roasted egg, bitter herbs, a vegetable, and charoset. I add an orange to my seder plate, too, to include women and marginalized communities in this symbolic retelling of history.
Each of these foods aids in telling the story of Passover. The shank bone and roasted egg represent the Paschal lamb and festival sacrifice offered in Biblical times; horseradish and romaine lettuce serve as maror, or bitter herbs, reminding us of the bitterness of slavery; parsley is dipped in saltwater to reflect the saltiness of the Israelites’ tears as they fled Egypt; and charoset, a mixture of apples, nuts, spices, and red wine acts as the clay and mortar the Israelites used to build Egyptian structures. The charoset is my favorite. Its sweetness combats the bitterness of the herbs just as freedom combats the memory of generational enslavement.
Near the Seder plate, there are three pieces of covered matzah. Part of a piece of matzah will be hidden as the Afikomen for children to find. I still remember my brother finding our Afikomen on top of the fish tank one year, only because he had a height advantage!
There should also be an empty chair and wine glass at the table for Elijah – and another for Miriam, too! Lastly, you’ll need two candles to light during the seder and some small dishes of saltwater to dip the parsley.
During the past two years, I have found new meaning in Passover. While I haven’t been able to hold seder in-person since pre-Covid, I have found hope in Passover’s fulcrums of liberation and resilience. From the seder plate, I let the horseradish and salty parsley sting my nose; I open the door, not only in anticipation of Elijah, but of days to come when it is safe to welcome my friends and family back in; I read the story of God saving our people from a plague with gratitude and ever-present appreciation. This year, I will continue to do so, hopefully with some familiar faces around the table and some on Zoom.
May we gather around our Passover tables safely in good happiness and health and have a chag sameach.
Regina Avtacha is a junior at Southern Connecticut State University. She is pursuing her undergraduate degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and minors in Judaic Studies, and Arts Administration & Cultural Advocacy. She grew up in an interfaith house and is currently the President of Hillel at SCSU.