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Did Your Deli Add An Orange To Passover Seder? Here’s The Story Behind It

A woman's hands are seen breaking matzo bread at a table, which also contains wine, water, and other seder dinner elements in glasses and on plates. At the end of the table is a video screen with several squares showing others.
Sarah and Aaron Sanders celebrate a Passover Seder with their children, Noah, 19, Bella, 18 and Maya, 13, at home and different family members across the country via video conference on April 8, 2020 in San Anselmo, California.
(Ezra Shaw
Getty Images)
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The Jewish commemoration of Passover starts this Friday, honoring the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Jewish delis, such as Culver City’s Wise Sons, are taking catering orders in preparation for the holiday.

The orders include items that are normally on the ceremonial seder plate, such as a lamb shank and horseradish root, each of which has a symbolic meaning connected to the story of Passover. Along with the traditional items, Wise Sons includes an orange, following a more modern tradition, restaurant founder Evan Bloom said.

In one version of the story, which Bloom shared, a rabbi said a woman belonged in front of a congregation on the bimah as much as an orange belonged on a seder plate. That story has led to the orange being seen as a symbol for the inclusion of women in Judaism.

However, the real history has been widely attributed to Jewish feminist scholar Susannah Heschel — she recently discussed it on a Jewish women’s podcast.

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As Heschel has explained, she adapted the ritual from a feminist seder text, “A Woman’s Haggadah,” written by members of a Jewish student group at Oberlin College. She discovered it when speaking at the school.

Heschel’s twist on what she’d learned was using a symbol that wouldn’t perpetuate the idea that Jewish lesbians and gay men violate Judaism. Her solution: adding an orange to the seder plate, symbolizing the inclusion of gays, lesbians, and others marginalized inside of the Jewish community. She described the origins of the tradition in her essay, “Orange on the Seder Plate.”

The orange was chosen as a symbol for the fruitfulness of Judaism when lesbian women and gay men are allowed to be contributing, active members of Jewish life. An additional bit of symbolism: those orange segments include seeds. Spitting them out symbolizes a repudiation of homophobia within Judaism.

We didn’t include that context in LAist’s original story when Bloom shared the widespread but inaccurate version of the orange’s origins, so after a reader pointed out the original reason for the use of the origin, we decided to share this and update the story.

Heschel has explained the problem with the apocryphal version of the story several times over the years, including via a letter to The New York Times after columnist Nicholas Kristof included that version in a column.

“The legend transfers credit for my idea to a man, erases the point of the custom (rejecting homophobia) and affirms what already exists (women are on the bimah) rather than demanding needed change,” Heschel wrote.

For more on the complex history and evolution of this ritual, you can read Heschel writing about the misappropriation of her version of the ritual in “An Orange on Plate for Women — And Spit Out Seeds of Hate,” as well as students from that Oberlin group that inspired Heschel on the details of its origins Heschel herself misremembered.

For those observing Passover — whether including an orange or not — Wise Sons makes holiday meals-to-go. So if you’re looking for a seder-in-a-box, put your orders in now. And for people who aren’t eating leavened bread and missing sweets, the menu at Wise Sons includes a dessert of coconut macaroons and chocolate-covered matzo.

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