Update the Traditional Seder Plate. Here’s How.
The Seder plate has a deep, rich history in Jewish culture. And every single item on the plate represents something from ancient Jews’ storied past. So it should be no surprise to learn that, as time continues to go on, families have begun swapping out items or adding new ones entirely to create a Seder plate that has an extra-special place at the table.
This board features all the traditional items one would expect to see on a Seder plate, but we’ve also added a few extra items — all with a socially responsible slant — that have been popping up on Seder plates around the world. And because a traditional Seder plate wouldn’t have room for all of our additions, we decided to make our own.
Making a DIY Seder Plate
To build our own Seder plate, we started with a wood board made from acacia, which is an extremely sustainable wood! Then, we gathered up some pinch bowls, which we happened to already have on hand. Next, we arranged the standard six bowls together, leaving space on the board for some freestanding additions. Finally, we added two more bowls on the other side.
Note: There are different ways to organize the items on the Seder plate; we chose to keep the traditional items together and arrange the additions on the opposite side.
The Standard Items
Maror: This is the bitter herb, which reminds the Jews of the bitterness of the slavery their ancestors endured in Egypt. It’s usually represented on Seder plates with horseradish. You can use part of a full root or spoon out some of the jarred stuff.
Z’roa: Usually a roasted lamb shank bone, the z’roa is just for show to represent the lamb that was sacrificed the night the Jews left Egypt.
Charoset: The charoset is meant to resemble the mortar and brick made by the Jews when they were slaves in Egypt under Pharaoh. Some communities of Ashkenazi Jews make it with apples, walnuts, and wine. Sephardic Jews often use figs and dates, which are more common than apples.
Get the Recipes
Chazeret: This second bitter item is sometimes left off the Seder plate entirely. Many people use romaine lettuce to symbolize the fact that the Jewish stay in Egypt began soft and ended hard and bitter (look at the two ends of a piece of lettuce).
Karpas: Typically represented with parsley (although some families use boiled potatoes), the karpas is a symbol of spring and new beginnings. It can also symbolize the initial flourishing of the Israelites during the first years in Egypt.
Beitzah: There are many different explanations for why a roasted hard-boiled egg sits on the Seder plate. Some families say it represents the pre-holiday offering. It’s also said the roundness of the egg represents the cycle of life. And other people say it represents new beginnings and hope.
- Karpas: Instead of the parsley or a potato, some families use potato chips to allude to the fact that high-fat, low-nutrition foods are cheaper and easier to find in struggling neighborhoods.
- Charoset: Rotten lettuce is sometimes used to remind people that inner-city grocery stores often carry only spoiled produce.
- An orange: Many will tell you that the orange represents women and feminism. There’s a false myth that an angry man told Jewish scholar Susannah Heschel that “A woman belongs on the bimah [the podium in a synagogue] like an orange belongs on the Seder plate,” and that’s why feminists today include an orange. However Heschel herself repudiates this myth, saying that she added the orange to honor lesbians and gay men.
- An artichoke: As an acknowledgement of interfaith marriages, the artichoke inclusion has been growing in popularity. “Like the artichoke, which has thistles protecting its heart, the Jewish people have been thorny about this question of interfaith marriage,” writes Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael.
- Olives: An almost literal olive branch, some people use olives as a symbol of peace in the Middle East and elsewhere.
- Fair-trade coffee and chocolate: The topic of slavery comes up a lot throughout the Passover Seder, as it relates to Jewish history. And many families add these fair-trade items as a reminder that slavery still exists today and to highlight the Jewish concern for forced child labor.
See 3 Other Takes on the Passover Seder Plate
Editorial consultant: Rabbi Josh Franklin of Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts
What do you put on your family’s Seder plate?