Object of the Month - April - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Object of the Month - April

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Object of the Month - April 2016

Miriam’s Cup Ann Sperry  (d. 2008) Welded and painted steel USA, 1997 Museum purchase with funds provided by Skirball Museum docents

One of the major Jewish spring festivals, Passover, or Pesach, occurs in the last weeks of April this year.  The festival of Passover commemorates the Jewish exodus from Egypt.  During Passover we are often reminded of the struggles endured by the Jewish slaves in Egypt and many of the rituals are rich in meaning and help to convey the Passover story.  

Not all Passover rituals have a long history, however.  One such ritual that has gained popularity in the Reform movement over the past few decades has been placing a Miriam’s Cup on the Seder table next to the cup of Elijah. Seder, meaning order, is the Passover home service held on the first and second nights of Passover. The ritual of placing a Miriam’s Cup was started in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1980s.  The Miriam’s Cup is filled with water to represent Miriam’s Well, the movable well that followed the Israelites throughout their desert wandering and provided them with fresh water.  The purpose of the Miriam’s Cup is to honor the role of Miriam, Moses’ sister, in the Exodus and to highlight the contributions of women to Jewish culture.  The placement of a Miriam’s Cup on the Seder table is a symbol of inclusiveness, and in particular, the recognition of the important roles women have played throughout the long history of the Jewish people.
In the Passover story, Miriam watched baby Moses in the basket on the Nile and she convinced Pharaoh’s daughter to allow a Hebrew nurse to be brought to care for the baby.  In this way, Moses’ own birth mother was allowed to care for him.  She also led the women in song as they escaped the Egyptians through the parted Reed Sea.  
The artist manipulates welded steel to create biomorphic loops supporting the large cup basin. The winding design ends in a budlike shape that may represent the arrival of spring, the season in which Passover falls each year.