Passed Over For An Orange

by admin on April 25, 2011

Since it’s the holidays, I was thinking about something that happened a number of years ago to my mother.

We were living in the UK at the time, and a number of people from the States happened to be passing through during Passover (hee! Puns!). My dad’s oldest friend was joining us, as well as the daughter of one of my mother’s distant cousins, as well as the friend she was traveling with. We had never met this girl before, but my mom loves meeting new family members and always the eager hostess, welcomed everyone with open arms. With my mom, the more people she gets to feed the happier she is. Two days prior to our seder, we received a call from our rabbi, who was desperately trying to help four exchange students from the States. They had absolutely nowhere to go for Passover, and being ex-pats ourselves, thought it would be a real mitzvah to accommodate them. My mom was overjoyed to open her home to these kids.

So it’s the first night of Passover and my mother has somehow managed to manipulate the physical laws of the universe, fitting in my parents, four exchange students, my two brothers, myself, my dad’s friend, my mom’s cousin’s daughter, and my mom’s cousin’s daughter’s friend into our cramped dining room. The exchange students were the nicest people. They thanked my mother profusely for having them, shared stories of their own seders, and were the epitome of good house guests.

My mom’s distant cousin’s daughter was not. Just as my mom was getting ready to start the seder, this girl gets up, disappears for a minute, and returns with an orange, which she proceeded to plop on my mother’s impeccably arranged seder plate (an integral part of the seder which contains items central to the Passover story). She says, “A rabbi once told a woman that women have as much place on the bimah as an orange does on a seder plate, so I’d like to put this here to represent women’s place in Judaism.” My mother, not wanting to make anyone feel uncomfortable, smiled and moved on with the seder. This was particularly reprehensible as this girl came into someone’s home for the purposes of a religious ceremony and butted in with an alteration without even consulting the hostess (it’d be rude even then). I know plenty of other Jews who place an orange at their seder plate, and I think it’s a wonderful tradition, but not when imposing it on your unsuspecting hostess.

Well, we ate and sang until 1am, shared stories, celebrated, and very nearly lapsed into comas from all the food. Needless to say, this girl was officially crossed off the list of people we’d ever be inviting back into our home.   0423-11

{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

YWalkalone April 25, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I agree with Wink-n-Smile. “When in Rome…”, as they say. If you are invited into someone else’s religious observances, IMO etiquette dictates that you follow their traditions. The time for disagreement comes later, provided only that you are willing to have a respectful, honest discussion in the hopes of learning something new, as opposed to insisting, “You’re wrong!”
While not entirely relevant, this reminds me of the time a friend-of-a-friend brought his wife (who follows a different faith) to a religious study I attended. Instead of listening intently and asking respectful questions with the hope of opening up an honest debate, she essentially hijacked the study, going off into irrelevant tangents. While the leader (who was the epitome of graciousness, I might add) tried to gently lead her back to topic, she kept insisting, over and over, “That’s not how [we] do it!!!” Her attitude, instead of being inquisitive, frank, and respectful, was entirely belligerent. By the end, virtually everyone else felt like they hadn’t gotten what they came for–a deeper look into their own faith. Though the woman in the OP’s story didn’t come off as belligerent as the one I had experience with, I can understand how some in the story could be upset, or at least annoyed. They invited her into their traditions, and she was essentially saying, “That’s not how we do it! My way is better!”

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Dawn April 25, 2011 at 6:29 pm

I’ve only attended one seder, but even if I hadn’t, I would still recognize this as terrible rudeness. Coming from a teenager, I’d write it off as teen-angst-driven rebellion (of the sort I was often guilty of, though never on ceremonial occasions). But this woman was 28. If she actually cared about the point she was putatively making, she would have asked her hostess to include the orange. No, she was doing it to draw attention to herself and make others uncomfortable. As the OP has pointed out, this woman is antisocial. She was not capable of interacting in an acceptable way, so she went with an unacceptable way.

That she did so with such an important issue as the role of women in Judiasm shows her lack of real regard for the issue.

If I was invited to another pagan’s Beltane celebration and then, right before the elements were called, I went up to the altar and put down a picture of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and said, “I’m putting His Noodliness up here to symbolize how terrible climate change is,” that would have been every bit as rude. It was a bit of self-serving, attention-getting drama, and the sort I hope folks grow out of before they’re considered adults.

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LauraKat April 25, 2011 at 8:49 pm

I’m not Jewish and live in New Zealand so haven’t been exposed to Jewish culture as it’s not common here, so this is more a question than an opinion.

Is it possible that the girl saw that your mother was leading the service (hope that’s the right terminology) and wanted to show that she supported and respected her right to do that by adding the orange?

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phoenix April 25, 2011 at 9:08 pm

I think a lot of people who are saying they don’t understand why this is rude don’t understand what a sedar plate is.

The sedar plate is a hugely symbolic part of the ritual, with an entire spoken accompaniment that is part of family tradition and full of religioius meaning. You don’t just plop something else down in the middle of a religious service and say “I think this should be in there.” It’s not a decoration, it’s religious paraphernalia.

Doing so is just as jaw-dropping as sweeping the crucifix off someone’s table because you think having icons is wrong, replacing hannukah candles with incense in someone else’s menorah because you think it’s nicer, or plugging your ears up to avoid hearing someone’s prayer over dinner.

I wouldn’t invite her back either. I could never bring back as a guest someone who thought it was perfectly fine to re-organize one of the most important ceremonies of the year without asking, in my house, to suit their own tastes.

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Twik April 25, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Basically, this was a political statement. And while many may agree with the basic sentiment, in this case it was done with all the graciousness of someone sitting through a wedding, and when the officiant says, “If any man know of any reason….” screaming out “OR WOMAN!”. It was not done to persuade, it was done to challenge.

Some people may not agree with such a position on women’s roles in certain rites. Others may agree, but feel the young woman has chosen a poor way of expressing it. In any case, to do this in someone else’s house is a challenge to them that goes beyond anything allowed by courtesy or etiquette.

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SJ April 25, 2011 at 10:55 pm

From an etiquette point of view, I think it was rude for her to impose her idea on the hostess.

From a religious point of view, I can see that a seder dinner, which is steeped in tradition, has more of a issue with this than if someone just put an orange on any old dinner platter.

It would be like going to someone’s house for Christmas dinner and adding something to their nativity scene to make it the way you think it should be. Anyone more familiar with Judaism than me agree?

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karma April 26, 2011 at 5:48 am

Sounds like a well-intentioned, but immature, attempt to make a political statement. Unfortunately, someone else’s religious service is not the moment to make such a statement. I’d be less surprised if someone younger than the girl did it (a lot of us had strong ideas when we were in our early twenties), but that girl was a bit…..old…..to make such a faux pas. I guess age doesn’t necessarily bring wisdom, eh?

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DGS April 26, 2011 at 6:13 am

Tanz, it was not that the equality of the sexes was seen as rude (the OP’s mother was leading the seder, and is clearly the spiritual head of the household, so that wasn’t the issue here); it was that a guest tried to hijack the ritual that was being done a certain way in someone else’s home. If after the meal, the girl had engaged the OP’s mother in a conversation about including an orange or women’s roles in Judaism (which vary widely across various spectra of religious observance in Judaism), that would been an interesting topic of discourse and potentially, yielded a fascinating discussion. However, what she did was interrupting someone else’s tradition in a very rude, obnoxious manner (perhaps, with the hopes of drawing attention to herself, how knows). That is what the rudeness is all about here, not at all about the inclusion of the sexes being considered rude. It’s the equivalent of someone going to a Southern Baptist wedding, and right when the pastor asks the bride to “love, honor and obey” the groom, the guest would jump up and scream, “Don’t say ‘obey’, don’t say ‘obey’!” One might disagree with that sentiment privately, but interrupting a ritual to interject one’s own two cents is profoundly boorish.

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Pers April 26, 2011 at 11:05 am

I’ve learned a lot too! Thanks!

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Michelle P April 26, 2011 at 12:37 pm

@Tanz, I don’t believe that anyone here is faulting the woman for her stance/viewpoint. It’s the way she did it. Other posters have said, and I agree, that the religious aspect aside, what she did was rude. She didn’t need to leave the table then drop something on the hostess’s plate, thus shoving her beliefs down their throats and interrupting their dinner.

@loveisintheair, there’s nothing wrong with a guest sharing something about herself. A cultural exchange is fine. What isn’t fine is that the woman was a guest in their home and interrupted what they were doing and changed it.

SV and David hit the nail right on the head.

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Anne April 26, 2011 at 6:58 pm

SJ and phoenix, I think you put it so clearly. Thank you!

To me, even asking to add seems like it would have been a breach of etiquette. Imagine a first time guest at a Thanksgiving dinner taking the hostess aside and asking if she can add her own secret ingredient to the gravy. Imagine a 28 year old woman asking a distant relative on Christmas Day if she could change the star on top of their Christmas tree for an angel she brought along with her because it means more to her.

As a born again Christian, I find the Passover service very exciting. I know many Jewish people who have accepted Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. One Jewish family from my church asked me and my family every year to join them for Passover.

My friends, and other Jewish friends, have shared with us how prophecies of the coming of the Jewish Messiah are bound up in the traditions of Passover. The Lamb of God slain for our sins so God would see its blood and “pass over” our sins. How the middle Matzo is broken and hidden, and later bought back at any price symbolizing the death, burial, and resurrection of Y’shua (Jesus), and how we give God our all by accepting Him.

But if I were ever honored to be asked to celebrate Passover with Jewish friends who didn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah, I wouldn’t dream of asking if I could add, and wouldn’t even bring up the subject at their celebration!

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Enna April 27, 2011 at 9:11 am

Sorry OP I submitted my comment asking about the cousin being young just after you submitted yours. Okay she’s 28: she’s an adult and I think a conscturctive and polite chat would be the best thing. No one commeted or complained about the oragne at the celebration? She didn’t spoil it or ruin it for anyone did she? Maybe having a constructive chat that it is best to ask permission about such things (and that you Mum would have said yes anyway) as such behaviour is disrespectuful to the hostess and could offend someone. If she apologies then it shows she made a mistake but doesn’t deserve to be cut off the invitaiton list. Guests can do bad things such as steal form the host or do really bad things that ruin the evening.

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Asharah May 4, 2011 at 1:14 pm

I think people have the right to decide who will be a guest in their house. Plus the girl was the daughter of a distant cousin who was travelling in the area at the time. Odds are she might not be back in the area again, but I think OPs mom has the perfect right to decline to accomadate her in her home if she does come through again.

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