As a child growing up in a progressively Jewish household our Seder was a tzimis of Jewish activism.
My maternal Grandparents were from the American South and active in the Civil Right movement so we sing “We Shall Over Come” during the Maggid portion of the Seder.
My mother is a Jewish educator and UC Berkley alum. She teams up with my brother, a Deadhead, to lead us in “Blowing In the Wind”, which we sing in a profoundly nasal Bob Dylan-ese.
In the early 1980s we added an Orange to our Seder plate — as a symbol of inclusion of gays and lesbians and others who are marginalized within the Jewish community. Around the same time, we added place cards with names of Soviet Refuseniks and an extra candle for the 6 million who died in the Shoah.
In the mid-1980s we acquired an afikomen bag with an image of Ethiopian Jews boarding an El Al flight to Israel as part of Operation Moses, the covert evacuation of Ethiopian Jews from Sudan during a famine in 1984.
Miriam’s cup showed up in the early 1990s. And every possible Internet Passover parody song was added to our song sheets when a new generation of grandchildren joined the table. By the way, we have no kids’ tables at our Seder. You spill your Manischewitz or Kedem Grape Juice in equality at the big table like everyone else.
This year there will also be a single banana on our Seder plate.
It was just this past August, less than a year ago that the world was awakened from our slumber of indifference to the plight of Syrian Refugees with the image of a little boy lying lifeless in the gentle surf of a Turkish beach.
We are a people commanded every year for 3,000 years in the Hagaddah to “see ourselves as we had once come out of Egypt as refugees” and we saw ourselves.
In that little boy in a t-shirt, shorts and little blue shoes we saw even more than ourselves, we saw our own children and we wept.
This little boy was not another nameless victim amongst thousands in the Syrian Refugee Crisis, the greatest humanitarian crisis since WWII. Over 10 million people have fled from chaos… into chaos. There are 360,000 refugee children under the age of 11 in Turkey alone.
But this little boy was not a number, because human beings are not numbers! Human beings are never numbers. This tiny child had a name. His name was Aylan Kurdi (age 3), he drowned along with his older brother Galip (age 5) and their mother Rihan on a tragically failed exodus to freedom’s distant shore.
Aylan and Galip’s father Abdullah survived the harrowing journey – though how does a parent survive the death of their children? Can we as Jews relate to that? Ask Otto Frank, Ann Frank’s father.
Wracked with grief, his father reminisced that his precious boys both loved bananas, a luxury in their native war torn Syria.
Every day after work Abdullah would bring home a banana for his sons to share, a sweet little treat, a sign of his enduring love for them and a reminder that across oceans and cultures we are not so different.
Did our ancient Hebrew ancestors on their own exodus coax their children along that harrowing journey with sweets or precious fruits? Maybe. Mark Twain once wrote, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” No two eras or events are the same, but many if not all have rhyming similarities.
So this year I will place a banana on my Seder plate and tell this story. It will remind me and those seated around me of Aylan, Galip and children everywhere who are caught up in the agony of this modern day exodus.
Our banana will occupy a place of intentional discomfort alongside the Orange and Miriam’s cup. It will cry out to me like the drops of wine from my Kiddush cup, that we spill for the Egyptians who died pursuing our ancestors through the parted sea. The Torah records that God cried for them too, the drops of wine are God’s tears.
Our banana will motivate me, like the civil rights era spirituals and the anti-war protest songs, reminding me that the road is long but we must keep marching forward.
And maybe one day soon, like the refusnik name plates and the Ethiopian Afikomon bag, it will be retired to memory, but never forgotten. How could it be? As our Seder reminds us, it was not so long ago, we were the ones who came up out of Egypt seeking safety in a distant land.
For a ritual, poem and blessing connecting to, “A Banana On Your Seder Plate”, visit http://www.rac.org/holiday-guides-passover