Many families and congregations have begun adding an orange to the Seder plate as a way of acknowledging the role of women in Jewish life. The origin of this custom has been described in a variety of ways; however, the authoritative explanation comes from Susannah Heschel:
"In the early 1980s, the Hillel Foundation invited me to speak on a panel at Oberlin College. While on campus, I came across a Haggadah that had been written by some Oberlin students to express feminist concerns. One ritual they devised was placing a crust of bread on the Seder plate, as a sign of solidarity with Jewish lesbians symbolizing the thought that at the time there was as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there was for a crust of bread on the Seder plate.
At the next Passover, I placed an orange on our family's Seder plate. During the first part of the Seder, I asked everyone to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit, and eat it as a gesture of solidarity with Jewish lesbians and gay men, and others who are marginalized within the Jewish community.
Bread on the Seder plate brings an end to Pesach--it renders everything chometz. The symbolism of bread suggests that being lesbian is being transgressive, violating Judaism. I felt that an orange was suggestive of something else: the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life. In addition, each orange segment had a few seeds that had to be spit out--a gesture of spitting out, repudiating the homophobia that poisons too many Jews.
When lecturing, I often mentioned my custom as one of many new feminist rituals that had been developed in the last twenty years. Somehow, though, the typical patriarchal maneuver occurred: My idea of an orange and my intention of affirming lesbians and gay men were transformed. Now the story circulates that a MAN stood up after a lecture I delivered and said to me, in anger, that a woman belongs on the bimah as much as an orange on the Seder plate. My idea, a woman's words, are attributed to a man, and the affirmation of lesbians and gay men is simply erased. Isn't that precisely what's happened over the centuries to women's ideas?" Susannah Heschel
To be read after you have eaten the Hillel sandwich:
We read in the Haggadah, “Whoever expands upon the story of the Exodus from Egypt is worthy of praise.” May this be our invitation to continually reconnect with our collective story as it has been told as well as to retell it in new ways. Tonight we make a Makom, a place on our Seder plate with this orange for all who have been condemned and excluded because of fear or ignorance. In making this space to include the outcast, “the haggadah explains, we also make room in ourselves for more understanding. Through opening our minds, we pray that the distinctions we make between the sacred and the profane will grow out of intelligence and compassion.
Let us recite together:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, borei p’ri ha-adamah.
Our praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the earth.
Eat the segment of orange.
Adapted from Ritualwell by Deborah Eisehnbach-Budner and Alex Borns-Weil