A few years ago, my friend BL — left-wing, social justice-oriented, Jewish Voice for Peace-supporting — invited me to a “BDS seder” in Brooklyn for the first night of Passover. (BDS is the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel as a way of pressuring the nation to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories.) How could I pass up the opportunity to add this experience to my collection?
Indeed, it turned out to be a marvelous seder (if you keep in mind that my idea of a marvelous seder is one that is hopelessly chaotic and more well-intentioned than well-organized). Of the 25 people present, we had every color of the gender-sexuality rainbow, an immigrant living in the country illegally, a Palestinian Christian and all manner of Jewish leftists. As a straight white guy, I was in the minority — which, as it turns out, really puts one in the Passover spirit.
I arrived on time. No one else did. An hour after things were supposed to start, the seder plate had not been put together. As this seder’s self-appointed defender of tradition, I offered to oversee it. Not surprisingly, my plans for the plate didn’t exactly match up with BL’s. Here’s what we ended up with:
Karpas. Ordinary parsley.
Raw egg. Normally a boiled or roasted egg, but BL forgot to do that ahead of time.
Turnip. In vegetarian homes the lamb shank is often replaced with a beet, the red juice symbolizing the blood of the Passover sacrifice. But no one remembered to get a beet. So we rescued from the trash a slightly moldy turnip to serve as our makeshift substitute for the traditional substitute.
Maror. White horseradish; none of that wimpy fuchsia stuff in sight.
Haroset. The Yemenite haroset that has become standard in my family; I never show up to a seder without it.
Matzah. We had every kind of matzah on the market: classic, egg, whole wheat and spelt.
Orange. Naturally, we employed the most common of the modern seder plate additions, the orange, which stands for the inclusion of women and LGBTQ Jews. During the seder, we went through about 11 versions of this tradition’s origin story, including the apocryphal but ubiquitous tale of the man telling Susannah Heschel that a woman belongs on the bimah like an orange belongs on the seder plate. At this point, the recitation of that tale and subsequent correction of it is as much a tradition as the orange itself.
Jar of sliced Spanish olives. It was supposed to be an olive, included in many peacenik homes as a symbol of peace in the Middle East. According to this seder’s haggadah — your standard hyper-politicized photocopied internet haggadah — the olive symbolizes “an invitation to Jewish communities to become allies to Palestinian liberation struggles.” In place of an olive, we scrounged up a jar of sliced Spanish olives from the back of the fridge. (Being an entire jar, it wasn’t on the seder plate so much as in a seder plate-adjacent position on the table.) We decided the Spanish angle would stand for the Spanish golden age of cooperation between Muslims and Jews. Or something.
Tomato. In what was surely an oversight, this haggadah neglected to mention the tomato, an idea making the rounds that year, symbolizing the plight of migrant tomato workers. But fear not: I was sent to the corner store to get one.
The wonders of this seder were too many to enumerate here in full. But one more detail demands some attention: the wine.
While most present were familiar with the meaning and goals of BDS, someone who knew nothing of these things had been invited. She’d offered to bring a bottle of wine. Naturally, she picked up a bottle of Israeli wine. The bottle of cabernet sauvignon was quickly identified by the BDSers present as “settlement wine.” This led to a teachable moment, a lengthy digression regarding the evils of the occupation.
The consensus was — in the spirit of baal tashchit, the Jewish prohibition against senseless waste — that we should drink the wine anyway. So we did.
That empty wine bottle now sits among the shelves of chazerai in my apartment, a souvenir of the most memorable seder of my life.