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Pardes Levavot

Pardes Levavot, “Orchard of Hearts,” was formed in the spirit of creating conscious holy community. Our name expresses the spiritual blossoming of each individual heart within an inspiring and nurturing orchard.

For information on our congregation please call (303) 563-2110 and leave a message or send email to To join our congregation, please print a copy of our membership form, fill it out, and send it to our Synagogue.

Pardes Levavot gratefully acknowledges Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado for their support of our Circle of Family Education program. Thank you!

Reprinted from The Oregonian, April 23, 2005

Filling the Seder plates

The traditional symbols for the Passover meal undergo changes to make room for new causes

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Like everything in Judaism, Passover is about, as Tevye of "Fiddler on the Roof" would say, tradition. Perhaps nothing demonstrates that more than the plate used for the Seder, the ritual meal marking the start of the holiday tonight.

The plate has small wells for items that sum up the story of the ancient Jews' flight from Egypt, the inspiration for the eight-day celebration. Central is matzah, the flour-and-water flatbread representative of the bread the Jews took with them as they rushed out of Egypt. Bitter herbs symbolize the years the Jews spent in slavery; a shank bone represents the sacrificial lamb; an egg, the circularity of life. A paste of apples, wine and nuts is reminiscent of the mortar ancient Hebrews used to construct Egyptian buildings; and parsley, a symbol of spring, is dipped in salt water representing tears.

The plate has remained much the same for centuries, says David Arnow, a Scarsdale, N.Y., author of a popular book on innovative Seders, "Creating Lively Passover Seders" (Jewish Lights, $24.99, 372 pages).

But for small groups of Jews around the country, symbols used at the meal have in recent years become yet another way of expressing individuality and promoting causes.

Nadya Gross, a vegetarian, hosts a Seder with a traditional plate -- except that she substitutes "pascal yam" for a lamb shank.

Gross, a rabbi at Congregation Pardes Levavot in Boulder, Colo., has guests bring personal symbols of freedom for a second Seder plate that sits alongside the first.

Gross, who turned 50 this week, plans to put a pacifier on the plate. "I am stepping out of the limitations of youth," she says.

The youthful-looking Gross has yet to have gray hair, and in the past, she says, her appearance has sometimes obfuscated the gravity of her work. "People tell me I look like a pisher," she says (that's Yiddish for "young squirt").

In Portland, Congregation Havurah Shalom in Portland will add an orange to the Seder plate at its community Seder, says JoAnne Bezodis, the synagogue's executive director. The orange, now common in the Reform and Reconstructionist movements, represents women's rights.

Inclusion of the fruit dates to a 1980 Seder at Ohio's Oberlin College. There, students added bread crusts to represent the exclusion of lesbians from Jewish society, says Susannah Heschel, chairwoman of the Jewish Studies department at Dartmouth College. (The crust derives from a story in which a rabbi tells a lesbian "there's as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate.)

Heschel, daughter of renowned Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel, was inspired by the story when she learned of it during a lecture at Oberlin some years later. But putting crusts on her own Seder plate felt too irreverent: during Passover, Jews are to abstain from all wheat, rye, oats, spelt and barley products except matzah.

So at Passover the next year, she put an orange on her Seder plate. She asked her guests to eat a segment, then spit out the seeds. The unwanted seeds, she says, represented many marginalized groups: women, gays, lesbians, widows and orphans.

Heschel began discussing the orange in talks around the country. But within a few years, the story of the orange took on a life of its own. At Seders from Miami to L.A., the fruit had come to represent women's rights alone.

"While I'm delighted by any effort to recognize women in a Jewish context, I worry about the process that led from my original goal to the present, more watered-down version," Heschel says.

Another new symbol leaves little room for confusion. Many Jews now add olive branches, the symbol of peace, to their plates, says Rabbi Ariel Stone of Congregation Shir Tikvah in Portland.

Daniel Ziskin, a member of Jews of the Earth, a Boulder nonprofit group, holds vegan "eco-Seders." It substitutes the egg on the Seder plate with an avocado seed, and the lamb shank with a beet that leaves "blood" stains. The theme is clear. "We are still enslaved to the concept that the Earth's resources are free to use without constraint and are limitless," says Ziskin.

Other additions to the Seder include "Miriam's cup," filled with water to recognize the well of Miriam, Moses' sister, who nourished Jews in the desert. Traditional Seders include only wine for the prophet Elijah.

Jews developed the Seder after the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70. While its form reflects the Greek symposium, it evolved over centuries when Jews were exiled from Israel.

Arnow, the author, says that one of the oldest descriptions of a Seder comes from the Mishnah, a collection of early oral interpretations of Scripture.

The early rabbis intended for Seder leaders to retell the Passover story freely and creatively, Arnow said. But the printing press led to the wide distribution of the haggadah, the book of legends, hymns and commentary that is read at the Seder. More and more, Jews began sharing the same texts -- and similar evenings.

By midcentury in the U.S., the Seder had become a somber affair. Many Jews sat through a dull rendition of the Seder as rendered by a free haggadah that came from Maxwell House coffee.

But a generation or two later, people feel free to add their own flourishes.

Indeed, Heschel, the professor and progenitor of the orange, has even noticed newly fashioned plates.

Some, she says, have special wells for the orange.

Gabrielle Glaser: 503-221-8271;

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