Is it time to add borscht to our Seder plates?
As war and destruction continue to threaten our free world and take the innocent lives of Ukrainian citizens, let’s hold them close to us this Pesach by adding this delicious traditional Ukrainian dish to our Seder plates.
As Pesach begins, we feel all our senses come to life. As we recline at the Seder table, the aroma of chicken soup and matzah balls fills our homes. We hear the chatter of family and friends. And we see the assigned seats for all the Seder participants, the silly plague-related masks, the plastic frog decorations, the old school Maxwell House Haggadah (or your more hip version) on everyone’s plates, and, of course, the seder plate itself. Our seder plate — filled with the shank bone (zeroa), egg (beitzah), bitter herbs (maror), vegetable (karpas), and charoset — has grown over time to include additional foods that symbolize and recognize the injustice and disparities of so many other cultures, races, countries and religions. From oranges, fair-trade chocolate and coffee (representing marginalized Jews), to cocoa beans (raising awareness of child labor), tomatoes (modern-day slavery), and sometimes even bread crusts (inclusivity of the LGBTQIA+ community), there’s a diversity of objects on our Seder plate to speak for the diversity in our world. Whatever we add, the idea is to inspire genuine curiosity from our children. We want them to ask, we want them to explore and we want to inspire action.
This year, we enter Pesach with heavy hearts, thinking of all the refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine who have been displaced from their homes and have lost those dear to them. The Torah teaches us, “You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20). So what can we add to our Seder plates this year to remind ourselves of the “stranger,” of those unfortunate refugees? To remind us that slavery is still an ongoing issue, and that so many are suffering in our world? And how can we take action to try to mend some of these problems as a family?
In light of recent world events, one thing we can add to our Seder plates this year is borscht. Yes, you read that correctly: the magenta, dill-filled, tasty beet soup. As war and destruction continue to threaten our free world and take the innocent lives of Ukrainian citizens, let’s hold them close to us this Pesach by adding this delicious traditional Ukrainian dish to our Seder plates.
We are commanded to remember, retell and experience what it’s like to go from slavery to freedom. Are we really a free people if there are so many in our world who are still fighting for their freedom? We must remember, retell, and share these experiences and injustices around our seder tables. Our children need to be empowered to help change our world, and it’s up to us to provide symbols that provoke questions, to give them knowledge and context so they can find opportunities to take action.
So what will you add to the Seder plate this year? Borscht? Chocolate? Something new? Whatever it is, may it be a reminder that each of us were once slaves in Egypt and that each of us can do more!
Michael Witman is director of Family Life and Learning at B’nai Jeshurun in New York City.