Whether you weave in one, a few, or all 10 of these tips, consider honoring the matriarchal roots of Judaism this Passover with a little girl power fun at your seder.
- Add an orange and coffee bean to your seder plate.
The orange represents both inclusion and solidarity with women and the LGBT community. The new tradition was started by Professor Susannah Heschel, who was inspired by women at Oberlin College in 1984 who made space on their seder plate to represent all who were not explicitly present in the Passover story.
The coffee bean represents and honors both the bitterness and strength of juggling your work life and family life — something we’re pretty sure you can relate to.
- Miriam’s Cup
In addition to the traditional cup of Elijah, include Miriam’s Cup and begin your seder by filling it up together. It serves as the symbol of Miriam’s Well — the source of water for the Israelites in the desert. Pass the cup around the table and let each guest add a bit of water from his or her own cup, establishing that the seder is an inclusive and participatory one. Remind your guests that while we may enjoy drinking our four cups of wine, water is just as important. Like Miriam’s Well, water sustains and nourishes us (and prevents hangovers).
- Lighting candles
Candlelighting has traditionally fallen to women in Jewish practice. Honor this by recognizing that the lighting of candles helps usher light into the darkness and allows us to begin our holidays peacefully. This poem, written by Hannah Senesch, is an excellent way to help usher in that feeling:
Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.
Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart.
Blessed is the heart with the strength to stop its beating for honor’s sake.
Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.
- The four mothers
Speaking of those four cups of wine, you can note during your seder that some scholars connect the four cups of wine with the four mothers: Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah. After all, the only thing better than one Jewish mother is four.
- Honor the women in your life
The four cups of wine are also excellent opportunities to honor the women in your own life, both past and present. With each glass of wine, take a moment to dedicate it to a woman who has influenced your life in some way. (Pro tip: If your own mom is in attendance, you might want to go ahead and include her.)
- The four daughters
While we’re familiar with the story of the four sons from the traditional Haggadah, why not also give a nod to the four biblical daughters, a wonderful addition from “A Night To Remember: The Haggadah of Contemporary Voices,” by Mishael and Noam Zion. The reading shares wisdom from Miriam, Tamar, Ruth and “The Beautiful Captive.”
- Four alternative questions
After reciting the Ma Nishtanah, the traditional Four Questions, take the time to ask four alternative questions, ones that feel relevant to you and your family and ignite discussion. Here’s one example to get you started: What still enslaves us as Jewish women today, and how do we seek freedom from our own Pharaohs (or Sheryl Sandbergs, if you will)?
- Add to the story!
There are many women who play crucial roles in the Exodus story, yet they’re usually left out of the retelling. Take some time to sing their praises:
Shifra and Puah: These two midwives were respected members of their community. Despite risk of punishment, they defied the Pharaoh’s orders and continued to help deliver baby boys for Jewish women in Egypt.
Yocheved: Having gone into labor early, Yocheved kept her secret from the Egyptians, saving Moses’ life. She then made the ultimate mother’s sacrifice by sending him down the river — her only hope of saving him from otherwise certain death. Now there’s a birth story to remember.
Batya: Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses in the reeds of the Nile and decided to raise him as her own, knowingly going against her father’s decree to kill all male Jewish babies. Without her defiance and bravery, our Passover story might have looked very different.
Miriam: One of the most well-known women in the Bible, Miriam was the brave young woman who ensured Moses was safe during his journey down the Nile River. She also was the one to bring Yocheved to Batya to be a nursemaid, ensuring that mother and son were never far apart. We don’t hear much about Miriam again until the exodus from Egypt, but when we do, it is her strength and song that stick with us, which brings us to …
- Miriam’s Song
One of Debbie Friedman’s most joyful songs, “Miriam’s Song” is rooted in the Exodus verse describing how Miriam led the Israelite women in song and dance after they crossed the Red Sea. “… Miriam the Prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand and all the women went after her with timbrels, dancing. And Miriam called to them: Sing to God …”
- Wise women
Many songs, poems and stories written by women are a perfect match for Passover; include them in your seder. Some of my favorites:
- Marge Piercy’s poem “Season of the Egg”
- Rabbi Rachel Berenblat (aka “The Velveteen Rabbi”) has a poem about what happens after the seder.
- Rabbi Jill Hammer’s “Orah Hi,” a feminist version of the traditional end-of-seder song “Adir Hu.”
(Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work has been featured in Bitch Magazine (and Bitch Media), The Guardian UK, CNN.com, Ms. Magazine,The Frisky and more. You can catch her musing online about motherhood and feminism on Twitter and at her blog, The Mamafesto, which was named a Top 25 Political Blog by Circle of Moms. She is also the editor of “The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality.” This piece was originally published on Kveller, a 70 Faces Media property.)