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An extra symbol on this year’s seder plate: Chewing gum

This year's spatially distant, socially malleable holiday observance is nothing if not an attempt to stretch the bounds of tradition. Let's add something meaningfully elastic.

Bazooka bubble gum. Photo by Parka Lewis/Creative Commons

(RNS) — As Jews across the world revamp this week’s seder to adapt to the current crisis, this question is worth pondering: What symbol should be added to the seder plate to represent Passover in the year of coronavirus?

My proposal: chewing gum.

Sound meshuggeneh? Perhaps. But I’m not joking. As part of the broader aim to update our seder materials to reflect current reality, this simple, lighthearted addition (kosher for Passover available if desired) invites discussion — the precise purpose of all objects on the plate.

For those unfamiliar with Passover rituals, matzah, known as the bread of affliction, is not the holiday’s only symbol. At the seder, we hold up an egg to connote renewal in springtime as well as parsley to remind us of spring’s growth, a shank bone to indicate the Passover lamb, bitter herbs to signify the agony of slavery, an apple mixture to represent the mortar used by the ancient Hebrews in their labor, salt water to stand for the tears of oppression.

In modern times, Jews have added other items to the seder plate, such as an orange to suggest solidarity with marginalized communities.

In 2020, when our seders are reaching farther afield than ever before, what better item to represent our efforts at flexibility and cohesion than a stick of Wrigley’s Freedent or a piece of Bazooka (which merits a spot on The 100 Most Jewish Foods list)? Just ask anyone who has stepped on a wad — gum is the quintessential symbol of sticking together.

In the age of coronavirus, sticking together means holding virtual seders. Thanks to the miracle of technology, we can cling to one another and hold fast to our heritage in modern and creative formats. A spatially distant, socially malleable holiday observance is nothing if not an attempt to stretch the bounds of tradition.

A Passover seder plate with wine and matzah. Photo by Mikael Häggström/Creative Commons

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Like chewing gum, Reform Judaism’s very mission is to reshape and adapt and bend without breaking — to continually respond without brittleness to the exigencies of the era. Our fervent quest is to “strengthen the bonds of friendship.” Connecting dining rooms in different zip codes and across faraway time zones is all about the elastic and adhesive nature of this year’s celebration. Yes, we can recline and chew gum at the same time.

Holding up that newly dubbed ritual item for discussion, leaders can ask their participants in what ways a virtual seder is coated with the sweetness of the typical seder and in what respects the absence of an in-person gathering feels a bit sugarless.

And if children think the leader is joking, please do not burst their bubbles. We want this addition to stick to their souls, not their soles.

Yet, similar to the present spurt of energy for congregating online, chewing gum’s flavor lasts only so long. May we be blessed to dispose of this emblem next year (carefully!) and return to a seder plate in which maror, charoset, karpas, and the other time-honored symbols do not need to make room for Extra.

We all have a lot on our plates right now — so what object would you add? Unquestionably, this coming Passover gives us plenty to chew on.

(Jan Zauzmer, a writer in Pennsylvania and a past president of a Union for Reform Judaism congregation, will add a piece of chewing gum to her family’s seder plate this year. She is on Twitter @JanZauzmer. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

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