The following is based on some words I shared over the Pesach holiday at minyan.
Have we jumped the shark?
Jumping the shark is an expression usually reserved for television shows that have reached their limit. It goes back to the moment on Happy Days when it became clear to everyone that the show was done. The episode in question featured the Fonz taking on a dare to do a water ski jump in shark infested waters. From then on, the term jumping the shark was used for the point at which any television show becomes absurd.
I wonder if we in the Jewish community have jumped the shark when it comes to the items that we are putting on our Seder plates. In past years I read about the orange on the seder plate. The apocryphal story involved an orthodox rabbi making the claim that having a woman rabbi is like having an orange on the seder plate, it just doesn’t belong. Suddenly families were putting oranges on their seder plates in defiance of this rabbi's claim.
For some reason this year, I have read of a plethora of items we are now supposed to put on our seder plates. There is the orange – now connoting support of the LBGTQ community; olives in hopes of peace in the Middle East; bananas in recognition of the refugee crisis; pineapple as a symbol of wealth and freedom; an artichoke representing interfaith families; even a tomato in support of farm workers of America.
I am all for tradition and change, after all it is the motto of the Conservative movement. However, sometimes we can take it too far and the change ends up overshadowing the tradition. The focus of the Seder is to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Though we are supposed to find meaning in our own day to remind us of slavery in Egypt, we are not supposed to do it at the expense of reminding ourselves of our past history. By putting all these new items on the Seder plate we run the risk of them eclipsing the traditional symbols and their meanings. Not to mention that the plate is already crowded as it is.
At our Seders, let’s share a text or an article or have a discussion about these modern forms of oppression and slavery, but let’s leave the symbols on the Seder plate to the ones we have been using since Talmudic times. Otherwise, I am afraid we have jumped the shark.