I am a Sephardic Jew and Ruth’s Cup will have a special place at my seder. My mother is from Cuba, and throughout my childhood I remember Jews at my day school and temple were amazed there were Cuban Jews, and even more amazed that some of them did not speak Yiddish.
My mother and grandmother spoke Ladino, a 15th-century Spanish studded with Hebrew, Arabic and Turkish words. My mother told me stories of fellow Jews doubting her Judaism when she first came to this country. The idea of a Jew with forebears who came from Turkey and Greece and traced their lineage to the Spain of Maimonides and Yehuda Halevi was at best fantastical to some and at worst disingenuous to others.
Hoover, a convert to Judaism, recently told JewishBoston that the presence of Ruth’s Cup at the seder highlights the magnificent diversity of the Jewish people. “In this country we don’t always recognize the diversity of the Jewish people,” she said. “Jews of color frequently encounter people who express doubt about their Jewishness or assume that they are converts. Not all Jews conform to the Ashkenazic stereotype of the white Eastern European Jew with Yiddish-speaking ancestors.”
She went on to add this caveat: “There is nothing wrong with being a convert, but we should not assume that because someone isn’t a white-presenting Jew they must have converted; it isn’t so. People who convert to Judaism frequently have experiences that make it clear that many of those born Jewish think converts are inferior in some way.”
Diane Kaufmann Tobin, founder and executive director of Be’chol Lashon, an organization that advocates for the growth and diversity of the Jewish people, told JewishBoston over email that, “Adding Ruth’s Cup to a seder reminds us that since ancient times, the Jewish community has welcomed those who have chosen to be Jewish. The dedication of those who actively choose Judaism is inspiring and offers opportunities for growth and renewal.”
Embracing Ruth’s spirit at the seder is also a lovely way to segue to Shavuot, which is celebrated seven weeks after Passover. According to Rabbi Susan Silverman, there is a “palpable yearning” in Ruth the Moabites’s words to her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi: “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16). It is “the first recorded statement of conversion to Judaism,” Silverman said.
For Hoover, Ruth’s Cup also calls to mind the image of all Jews standing together at Sinai and “recognizing who will be there and realizing that it’s all of us,” she said. The cup conveys the tenet that “we fully recognize every Jew—regardless of race, ethnicity or how they became Jewish—as completely Jewish. We need to shift assumptions in this country about where Jews come from or how they became Jews.”
During the seder, Ruth’s Cup is often coupled with Elijah’s Cup. But whereas Elijah’s Cup brings to mind the Messianic age, Ruth’s Cup communicates that we are meant to try and “perfect things in the here and now.” Hoover continued, “We can treat Jews better who look different or became Jewish differently before Elijah comes.” As far as the timing of Ruth’s Cup in the seder, Hoover emphasized it can be added anytime.
The following ceremony is adapted from an unpublished Haggadah that Hoover edited to honor the experiences of Jews by choice.
At Passover we fill a cup with wine for Elijah and open the door to welcome him to our seder. Elijah symbolizes our hope for the Messianic age, when the world will be perfected and all people will live in harmony and peace.
We also fill a cup of wine for Ruth, the first Jew by choice and great-grandmother of King David. We open the door to signify our welcome of Ruth and all who follow in her footsteps—those who become part of our people, part of our diversity.
All rise, face the open door and read together:
We declare that we do not have to wait for the Messianic age to make sure that every Jew feels fully comfortable and integrated into our people, no matter what their skin, hair or eye color is; no matter what their name sounds like; no matter how they became Jewish—through birth or through conversion, as a child or as an adult.
Close the door and be seated.