May 21st, 2019

Reality Check

Searching for meaning behind an empty metaphor

Jonathan Tobin

By Jonathan Tobin JNS.org

Published March 28, 2018

Searching for meaning behind an empty metaphor
A Passover Seder plate featuring an orange, which was added several years ago by some as a symbol of women's rights or to represent the gay and lesbian community.

For those who worry about the future of American Jewry, Passover brings some comfort. According to a survey published in 2014 by the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of Americans who identify as Jewish attend a Passover Seder. That's far more than those who fast on Yom Kippur, light Sabbath candles, attend religious services or keep kosher.

The numbers remain significant even for those whom Pew labeled "Jews of no religion" in its landmark study of the community published the previous year. According to Pew, fully 42 percent of those in that fast-growing demographic who have only tenuous ties to faith and peoplehood participate in a Seder.

That makes the Seder one of the few remaining connections to Jewish tradition for many Jews. Since the Seder is a unique exercise in national memory that transports Jews back to their origins—and challenges them not merely memorialize the Exodus from Egypt, but to have personally taken part in it—that makes the ritual service a powerful moment in which our grasp of a sense of Jewish peoplehood can be reaffirmed.