Over 40 people gathered on the River Level of the Interfaith Chapel Tuesday evening and sat at a remarkably long table arrangement. The table consisted of 14 bottles of wine, three pieces of Matzo, and eight plates with Zeroa (lamb bone), Beitzah (boiled egg), Maror (bitter herb), Charoset (a mixture of wine, nuts, apple and cinnamon), and karpas (greens) on each of them. Outside the window was the Interfaith Chapel’s trademark view of an awe-inspiring sunset and a green landscape. As everyone met and greeted each other with open arms, it was time for the ceremony to commence. Everyone that sat at the table, Jews and several curious Christians alike, including myself, poured wine into their neighbors’ cups, and prepared for a special night of traditions and fellowship.
‘With this glass of wine we will remember G-d’s first promise to the Israelites: “I will free you’,” sophomore Scott Strenger, one of the Seder’s leaders, read. ‘While drinking this glass of wine we should remember that life is fragile, and we must not take it for granted we must cherish every last bit of it.”
Tuesday night wasn’t an ordinary dinner at the Chapel; it was Hillel’s second annual Seder in celebration of Pesach, or Passover. A Seder, the Hebrew word for ‘order,” is practiced in celebration of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian rule in biblical times.
Traditionally, Pesach is family oriented, and the Seder’s structure may vary from household to household. Thus, many students either traveled home or paid an upstate visit to a nearby family member. However, Hillel utilized its second annual on-campus Seder meal to remind students of their campus family. Students from the River Campus and the Eastman School of Music, Rochester Institute of Technology and SUNY Geneseo were all in attendance Tuesday night, offering different features from their home traditions.
Because of the family-driven nature of Pesach, four Hillel students, Strenger and freshmen Melissa Goldin, Eli Witkin and Emily Kasman, came together to combine different aspects of their families’ fulfillment of the Haggadah. The Haggadah is a Jewish text that structures the Seder meal to fulfill a scriptural commandment in the Book of
Exodus which commands fathers to tell their sons about the Jewish liberation from Egypt.
Their Haggadah led the dinner through the 14 pieces of the Seder, including the spilling of wine for each of the 10 plagues, the consumption of the Maror or bitter herbs (possibly the hardest part of the night) and the meal (possibly the best part).
While Hillel students offered a welcoming environment, they weren’t the only Jewish students who didn’t go home for the Seder. Some celebrated the Seder with local families that were ecstatic to have students in attendance. Others opted to throw their own Seder and invite their friends over. Senior Althea Pestine brought Seder to her Riverview Apartments suite and celebrated with her UR family.
‘It was a great way to be with my fellow Jewish students in a small and nice Seder,” senior Hannah Donner, one of the students who attended Pestine’s Seder, said. ‘It’s a great way to celebrate when you’re away in a small community.”
Senior Ethan Green also decided to celebrate Pesach away from home. For Green, the Seder is more than a yearly tradition from a distant past; it is a way to dictate present and future conduct and principles of Jews within the scope of humanity.
‘Ideologically, it’s my favorite Jewish holiday,” Green said. ‘It is time to self-reflect and remember that we, as Jews, were in bondage in Egypt. But what also comes with that is a responsibility. Are we [oppressing] others, are we being hypocrites right now? That is an often forgotten and vital aspect of Passover. How thankful are we that we are no longer in bondage? Now it is time to ensure that no people should be passed over.”
While the Seder is a Jewish tradition, it still contributed to a broader lively atmosphere that has been pumping through the heart of the Chapel these past few weeks. Just last Friday, the Muslim Students’ Association wrapped up Islam Awareness Week with a night of free Indian food and fellowship. And this Sunday will certainly be vibrant with the celebration of Easter for both Eastern Orthodox and Western Churches.
Perhaps the most joyful segment of the Seder was its concluding matters.
‘It is said that the prophet Elijah will come and announce that, once again, all people in the world will be free,” Kasman read. ‘So we will open a door to the outside so that Elijah will find us and drink this cup of wine to join our Passover Seder.”
Elijah may not have been physically present, but there was certainly a great feeling of brotherhood as everyone sipped their wine, reclined and sang tune after tune ‘Eliyahu HaNavi,” ‘Chad Gadya” and then a final blessing. By the time the dinner ended, it was back to the harsh reality of college. But I’m at least proud to say that I have been acquainted with a tradition that I’d love to take home to my family.
Nathaniel is a member of the class of 2011.