The Jewish holiday of Passover is not celebrated in temple, it is celebrated at home. On the first (and often the second) night of Passover, families and friends gather for a ritualized meal or “seder” during which they drink wine, sing songs, and tell the Exodus story—with the goal of reminding everyone at the table that freedom is a gift to be cherished.
Every family’s seder is different, from the Haggadah they choose to read from to the seder plate on which they present the holiday’s symbolic foods. To celebrate this uniqueness, a few members of the Skirball staff share the story behind their seder plates, starting with mine!
I have always liked the bright and cheery design of my mother’s seder plate, and assumed for all these years that she had gotten it as a newlywed when she and my father were married. I discovered this year that she actually purchased it herself when we moved from New York to California when I was a child.
Until we moved, my mother never needed her own seder plate. In New York she attended first her grandmother’s, then her aunt’s seder—large family affairs conducted mostly in Hebrew that continue to this day. When we moved to California, in search of warm weather and business opportunities, we were forced to leave that family tradition behind. I know the move was bittersweet for my mother, as she was very close to her family, but I think this plate represents her hopefulness about starting a new tradition with her children. I have to say, she has done an excellent job, because Passover at my mother’s house is something we look forward to every year.
“Our seder plate has great personal meaning since it was made by friends, Leslie Gattmann and Eugene Frank, who operated a ceramic Judaica business for many years. Each piece was lovingly handmade and hand-painted. We use it every year at our family seder, which includes many great traditions from beating each other with green onions during the “dayenu” song (a Persian custom that we simply had to adopt) to raucous searches for the afikomen (dessert matzoh) by the youngest guests, who are now grown men.
As I unpack the seder plate each spring, I am reminded of how fast time passes and feel fortunate that we continue to celebrate this glorious festival of freedom with close friends and family. The plate also reminds me of the many guests who are no longer with us, but whose spirits hover in the open doorway when we welcome the prophet Elijah.”—Adele Lander Burke, VP Learning for Life
“This is the seder plate I grew up using. It was purchased from the gift shop at Temple B’nai Israel, where I was bar mitzvahed and which I later learned had some significant artwork on display from the Jewish Museum. One interesting thing about this plate is that in the last ten years—since my mother has gone vegan—the foods it serves have morphed somewhat so as not to include any animal products. Our Passover meal has gone from very traditional to very non-traditional. One year she replaced the shank bone with a ‘bone-shaped’ tortilla chip!”—Jason Porter, Assistant Director, Education
“For the past thirty years, my mother has used this plate for our seders. When I asked her about the story behind it, she at first sheepishly replied, ‘There’s no story, I’ve just had it for a while …’ After some questioning, however, the stories came bubbling out.
My mother bought the plate when she and my father were married, and used it at their very first seder together. My father was not raised Jewish, so this plate and the seder they created together had particularly important significance for them. It represented their commitment to passing along the history of the Jewish people—their struggles and triumphs against oppression—to my sister and me. Every year, when I help my mother set the table, we pull out the seder plate and set about arranging the traditional Passover foods: zero’ah, maror, haroset; karpas, and beitzah. My mother is never quite sure which order these go in, so our seder plate arrangement usually looks different every year. My mother’s haroset is the prized piece of the plate: full of color and texture, it is sweet and slightly bitter, and the recipe—like the arrangement of the plate—changes slightly every year.
But the larger significance of this seder plate is the story it tells, not only about our Jewish ancestors, but also my family’s. True to the tradition of Passover, every year we welcome our friends, significant others, and visitors—most of whom are not Jewish—to join us for my mother’s delicious home-cooked food and to participate in this piece of Jewish tradition. The changing roster of guests and personalities makes for a lively affair. The dining room becomes filled with conversation, laughter, copious amounts of food and wine, but also the somber memory of a time when we were not free, and an appreciation for the privileges we do have.”—Kasia Gondek, Program Coordinator
“My earliest memories of Passover took place here in Los Angeles, at my maternal grandmother’s home at 81st and New Hampshire, with my uncle leading our family seder. The fine china and linen, new clothes and shoes, retelling of the Passover story, and gathering together with family and friends are all very fond memories that continued first in my parents’ home and for the past twenty-six years at my home. When I began doing the purchasing for Audrey’s Museum Store at the Skirball, I was exposed to a vast selection of seder plate styles made from a variety of materials. Ten years ago, on a buying trip to New York, I came across this silver seder plate. The elegant European style was a perfect complement to the silver kiddush cup my husband and I purchased on a family trip to Israel in 1987. This year we are delighted to surround our elegant seder plate with wind-up frogs, representing one of the ten plagues, to help teach and create special memories for our seventeen-month-old granddaughter.”—Pam Balton, VP Special Projects
Earlier this month, our President and CEO, Uri D. Herscher, shared his seder plate on the blog. Does your family’s seder plate have a story? Let us know in the comments! Wishing everyone a Happy Pesach!