Passover is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the month Nisan, according to the Hebrew calendar (usually falls on April). On Passover, the Jewish people celebrate the liberation of the Israelites from enslavement by the Egyptians thousands of years ago. During the eight days of the holiday, the Jews keep a special dietary regime: they abstain from bread or any kind of food made with flour, and eat a special type of flat bread called matzos instead. During the holiday's most festive diner, or Seder in Hebrew, traditional foods are eaten that symbolize the suffering of the Israelites in ancient Egypt under the reign of King Pharaoh. The traditional dishes are placed on a central tray usually decorated with elaborate designs, known as the Seder Plate.
It is fascinating to trace back the origins of this holiday. The Bible tells the well-known story of Exodus which begins with the enslavement of the Hebrews in Egypt. The Hebrews were forced to work night and day for the Egyptian king who kept their lives a misery in order to break their spirit. At some point, Pharaoh began to worry at the increasing number of the Hebrew men, fearing rivalry or uprising. It is then that Pharaoh decides to make the Hebrews suffer even more and commands to throw every Hebrew new born child into the Nile River.
As a child during that time, Moses is saved miraculously from the evil fate. When Moses grows up, G-d commends him to go to King Pharaoh and demand that his People are set free. Pharaoh refuses to free his useful slaves. To help change Pharaoh's mind, G-d punishes the Egyptians with ten plagues that inflict terror and havoc on the Egyptian people. In the tenth plague, every first male born in Egypt is killed. That was the last straw for Pharaoh.
The Israelites leave Egypt in haste, fearing that Pharaoh would change his mind. As they prepare to escape Egypt, the Israelites don't have enough time to let their bread rise. They take with them the partly baked bread which feeds them during their journey to the land of Canaan (Israel) through the Sinai desert.
Passover is all about commemorating the miracles G-d had performed in Egypt to free His people from enslavement. On Passover, we eat a type of flat bread called matzah (Matzo) to commemorate the successful escape of the Jews from Egypt. Additionally, at Passover's biggest ritual meal, the Seder, the Jews gather around the table to reenact the story of Exodus by reading the stories in the Haggadah book and singing the traditional songs.
The main purpose of the rituals surrounding the Seder meal is to relive the experience of the Israelites during these historic events. The Seder Plate includes between five and six traditional dishes; each dish symbolizes the sufferings of the Israelites in Egypt.
The six tradition foods are:
Maror- bitter herbs that symbolize the bitter and harsh lives of the enslaved Hebrews.
Charoset - a sweet brown mixture that resembles the clay used by the Israelites during construction work for the Egyptians.
Karpas – a vegetable, usually parsley or celery, dipped in salt water. This ritual represents the bitter tears of the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt.
Zroa – usually a chicken wing or other specific parts of certain animals are eaten during the Seder as a reminder of the sacrifice that was offered to G-d in the sacred temple in Jerusalem.
A Roasted egg – is eaten as a reminder of the destruction of the second temple. In the Jewish tradition, eating a roasted egg is a sign of mourning and grief.
Many Judaica artists design Seder Plates with designated spots for the six symbolic foods. They often incorporate additional common motifs in the Jewish tradition such as the seven species that the land of Israel is blessed with. A few Israeli Judaica artists, for example, have designed Seder Plates shaped as pomegranates or grape vines. A Seder Plate can be made from assorted materials and styles. Since the ultimate goal of the Seder is to celebrate the freedom of the Jewish people from slavery, many Judaica artists choose to paint the Seder Plate designs with cheery and fun colors. Other designers prefer more modern, metallic colors such as Aluminum or silver.
In addition to the traditional ways, Israeli Judaica artists have created Seder Plates in groundbreaking and innovative designs that might even surprise you.
These designers offer a modern interpretation with an artistic design, expanding our minds to what we might imagine as a Seder Plate.
The innovative spirit and fascination with traditional stories that Judaica artists express through their Seder Plates designs may explain why the Seder Plate itself has become a popular Judiaca item. In recent years, it has increasingly become an appreciated custom to bring your Jewish family and acquaintances a Seder Plate. People enjoy them because they make a practical gift that adds festivity and beauty to this holiday. The designers do their best to ensure the Seder Plate is the most impressive item at the Passover dinner table.