A Rock on the Seder Plate

Passover is a holiday replete with symbols: matzo, wine, Elijah’s cup and, of course, the Seder plate. The symbols are meant to promote discussion of the holiday’s themes: slavery, freedom and the journey between them. To this end, we see new symbols: an orange, for example, to sensitize us to struggles of the LGBTQ+ community.

Several years ago, I was asked to speak about Passover to a local JACS (Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons, and Significant Others) conference. “If you could include a new symbol on the Seder plate that would represent the JACS community, what would it be?” I asked at one point.

Answers were varied, but the group finally agreed on a rock. “Why a rock?” I asked. The reasons included:

– Because we sit at the Seder table but we have no voice and no one wants to recognize our issues.

– Because we are addicts but our families are in denial about our condition. They don’t want us to be ill, so our illness doesn’t exist.

– Because do you know how hard it is to be in recovery and be pressured to drink four cups of wine?

– Because we feel like we are on display, and that our best behavior is necessary to convince all the “relatives” that we are not afflicted.

And, the group said, it should not be a smooth rock. It should be rough and dirty — “because that is how we feel and how we are treated.”

I felt as though I had stepped into another world. Demographics suggest that at least 10% of our population struggles with addiction in some form. That means if you have ten people at the Seder table, one of them is an addict. And many cannot admit what we don’t want to hear.

I cried on the drive home. How many people live in quiet desperation when confronted with the most popular home event in Judaism?

While I have trouble staying awake for the entire Seder, the greatest threat for me is indigestion — but some struggle with unrecognized trauma to survive an event that is meant to be joyous for all involved.

So this year, without being asked and without fanfare, embrace and encourage an expansive view of the struggle for freedom among us, have alternatives to wine, and model inclusive behaviors.

It may not be according to the letter of Jewish law — but the life you save may be of someone you love.

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Bayar is Founder and Executive Director of JSurge, an organization providing Jewish education and services to unaffiliated Jews. Ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, he is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, NJ, where he served the pulpit for 30 years, and teaches at the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, NJ. He is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly and Rabbis Without Borders, and has trained as a hospice chaplain, a Wise Aging facilitator, and a trainer for safe and respectful Jewish work spaces. He’s the co-author of “Teens & Trust: Building Bridges in Jewish Education,” “Rachel & Misha,” and “You Shall Teach Them Diligently to Your Children: Transmitting Jewish Values from Generation to Generation.”
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