There is a very popular urban legend that an elderly male rabbi once stood up at synagogue and, addressing a female presenter, said “A woman belongs on the bima like an orange belongs on a seder plate.” From that day forward, women everywhere have been placing oranges on their seder plates to stand in solidarity for women’s rights. It’s a great story; unfortunately, it is not true.
The real story, however, is no less awesome. In the 1980s, Susannah Heschel, daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel, traveled to speak at a Hillel. The students there introduced her to their practice of placing a crust of bread on the seder plate, to signify that mainstream Judaism is changing and needs to change, in order to incorporate fully all the needs of women and gays. Liking the idea, but not liking that the students were breaking the prohibition against chametz, Susannah suggested that they use an orange instead and that they spit out the seeds to symbolically expel the ostracism of women and gays. Thus, a tradition was born.
If an orange symbolizes an environment in which marginalized populations are embraced, which it does, and if Mayyim Hayyim is a progressive community mikveh, which it is, then Mayyim Hayyim is an orange! (The actual logical progression of that proof may be a little off but just go with it.)
Mayyim Hayyim is an orange because we strive to serve every need of our visitors, including needs that have not been addressed successfully in the past by mainstream Judaism. Recently, we began conversations on how to make ourselves even more accessible to visitors with special needs, including guests with vision impairment and guests on the autism spectrum. Our orange-ness is even in our Seven Principles of Common Purpose. We are committed to both ahavat yisrael, “Love of the Jewish People,” and petichut, “Openness & Inclusivity.”
Mayyim Hayyim is an orange because our staff is incredibly diverse. We are female and male; we have immersed in the mikveh and we have not; we keep kosher and we do not; we are Reform, Conservative, traditional, and unaffiliated; we are Jews-by-choice and interfaith, and we have Orthodox relatives; we are Jews from the South and Jews from the North; we are educators and social workers and students; we span age ranges; we are married and single and previously divorced; we are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons.
Our Board of Directors, our volunteers, and our Mikveh Guides are an orange because they are even more diverse than our staff, and everything that they do helps Mayyim Hayyim be open and accessible to all. Our guests are an orange because they come from all walks of life, from all over the US and from all over the world. Our blog is an orange because it reaches 95 countries and represents the beautiful melting pot that is modern Judaism.
The orange held a special place in my heart this seder. It expressed my gratitude that I as a woman am able to become a rabbi. However, it was also a promise to myself that, when I leave Mayyim Hayyim at the end of May to attend Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion’s rabbinical school, I will take the lessons I have learned here and the love and support given to me, and I will go out into the world and plant a few orange trees of my own.
Laura Seide is sad that she only has two months left of her internship at Mayyim Hayyim, but she is very excited to leave for Jerusalem and rabbinical school at the end of June.