February 22, 2020

‘Second Seder Plate’ Puts Focus on Refugee Crisis

As Jews sit down to Passover seders to retell the story of when our ancestors were slaves and refugees, Jewish World Watch (JWW), a nonprofit that works to end genocide and mass atrocities, would like us to help raise awareness of the needs of millions of refugees in the world today.

JWW’s “Second Seder Plate” campaign asks people to place an additional platter  on the table, alongside the traditional one, that contains these six symbolic items:

• Kitchen matches: Representing the flames that have destroyed entire Rohingya Muslim villages in acts of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

• Band-Aids: Indicating the medical supplies needed by innocent civilians wounded in the war in Syria.

• Tomato: Symbolizing the ultra-efficient farming techniques that can help supplement insufficient food rations in Darfuri refugee camps.

• Cellphone: Calling to mind the “conflict minerals” used in electronic devices that are mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by children, to the benefit of corrupt officials and profiteers.

• Toy: Symbolizing the lost childhood of many young refugees.

• Glass of water: Representing the dearth of clean water for the stateless.

For people who want to introduce the second seder plate to their table but don’t have the suggested items on hand, JWW offers a card with a picture of the seder plate that can be set on the table as a stand-in. Other cards — which can be downloaded and printed from the organization’s website at jww.org — contain information and discussion points about today’s global refugee crisis, along with tips on how to take action, whether by writing a letter to a Congressional representative,  providing financial support for JWW’s humanitarian aid efforts, or by other means.

“Passover is a time to recall the biblical Exodus, a story that, sadly, resonates with the tragic displacement going on today.” — Susan Freudenheim

“Passover is a time to recall the biblical Exodus, a story that sadly resonates with the tragic displacement going on today,” JWW’s Executive Director Susan Freudenheim told the Journal. “The Jewish story of fleeing from dishonest leaders and enslavement is too often being repeated for new populations around the world.”

JWW had considered suggesting that people add new symbols to their traditional seder plate, but “We decided the plate risks getting pretty crowded,” Freudenheim said.

“So, why not make a whole new set of contemporary symbols, linked to contemporary Exoduses, to tell the story of the plight of today’s 65 million displaced people who have been persecuted like the Israelites?”

Each of the second seder plate items and its accompanying text provide insights into how JWW works with people touched by genocides or mass atrocities.

“Jewish World Watch was founded to fight genocide, and one major aspect of our work is to help survivors,” Freudenheim said. “We have also traveled to meet with some of them: the Darfuris and the Congolese, in particular, and shared Jewish stories, not only of the Exodus, but also of the Holocaust. Many of the people JWW met in Africa had never met Jews before, and their first experience is of friendship and generosity.”

JWW is encouraging us to post pictures of  our second plates on social media using the hashtag #SecondSederPlate.

Beyond stimulating discussion around the plight of refugees, Freudenheim said, “our second seder plate reminds everyone to become involved. To be on the right side of history.”

Mark Miller is a writer who has performed stand-up comedy and written for various sitcoms. His first book, a collection of humorous essays, is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”