Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson Hillel holds Seder for Jewish students to begin Passover

Bryan Hecht
Place settings for the Seder include bound copies of the Passover Haggadah, the traditional Jewish Seder text from which prayers, stories, and songs are read. (Bryan Hecht/Beacon Staff)

Last Monday, around five dozen Jewish students gathered in the Bill Bordy Theater for Emerson Hillel’s Passover Seder, a traditional ritual service and feast that rings in the first night of the weeklong Jewish holiday.

Passover, one of the most revered holidays in the Jewish faith, commemorates the Hebrew liberation from enslavement in Egypt as described in Exodus. Its most important tradition is the Seder.

“A lot goes into Seder,” said Celine Sanborn, the Jewish chaplain for Emerson and Hillel advisor at Emerson, Simmons University, and Suffolk University. “Seder means order, and so there’s an order to every Seder, and it’s very particular about what you eat at what time, so a lot went into that.”

The Seder service and dinner are packed with ritual meaning. A traditional Seder plate will feature very specific items arranged in a meaningful pattern, like a lamb or roasted chicken bone, a charoset or mixture of nuts, fruit, and spices, bitter herbs, a green vegetable, and a hard-boiled egg. In addition, the tables were set with cups of saltwater and a wine glass, at Hillel’s event substituted for kosher grape juice, for each person, each object playing an important role in the service part of the feast.

Hillel’s Seder event began around 5:45 p.m., but dinner would not be served until a little after 7 p.m. The first part of any Seder is devoted to rituals, prayer, and a re-telling of the Passover story, which is read from the Haggadah, the traditional Jewish Seder text which each attendee at the event was provided a copy.

The theater was arranged in one long set of tables in a U shape that sat all the students in communal settings arranged with all the traditional fixings. Sanborn brought her dog with her to the event, and it ran between the tables, sparking laughs from students and adding to a sense of merriment and generally relaxed informality of the event. 

The service portion of the event included ritual proceedings like the dipping of the green vegetables in the salt water to symbolize the tears of the Hebrew slaves, the recitation of Jewish prayers like the Kiddush (wine blessing), Hamotzi (bread blessing), and the hiding of the broken middle matzah dessert piece, known as the Afikomen, which the children in the family usually look for after dinner. 

“We try to make it as close to being the Passover that everybody knows from their childhood … having Haggadahs that are not just little pieces of paper, but having bound books, telling the Passover story, going around, singing all of the songs that everybody is used to singing [allows us to do that],” said Zoe Golden, secretary of Emerson Hillel.

There are different levels of religiosity among the various members of Hillel. Still, all members are united under a common sense of Jewish pride, an Emerson sophomore attending the event who requested to remain anonymous, explained. 

“It doesn’t … matter if we’re wearing yarmulkes all the time or just yarmulkes tonight, you know? We’re all just here together to enjoy what it means to be Jewish,” they said. “[A family Seder at home is] something built out of mutual love, this is something that’s built out of mutual friendship and I would say a different sense of family.”

Sanborn spoke on the diversity of the organization as well. 

“What’s lovely about this Seder, in particular, is that there’s such a mix of people … so it’s really nice to be able to see the diversity of the people at the table, [as diversity and inclusion] is a big value of mine in my own practice,” she said. 

Dinner was served at 7:15 p.m. and featured dishes of matzo ball soup, charoset, brisket, and gefilte fish among others, with vegan, vegetarian, and other alternative options available for those with dietary restrictions. At the front desk, organizers and an ECPD officer signed students in and took their dietary information.

“[There’s] an enormous amount of food we end up having to get catered. We also have to be able to make sure that it’s kosher for Passover in this case,” said Golden. The food was from Catering by Andrew, a kosher specialty catering company in Brookline. They provided about 50-60 portions of food to be distributed by the Bon Appetit staff associated with Emerson.  Golden said the event was expected to get around 70 people, “which is the highest turnout of any Hillel event since [she’s] been [there].”

For Ari Willis, Emerson Hillel’s vice president, the best part of Seder is the food. 

“I’m running low on funds right about now, so [a] free meal on Hillel is awesome, and I love to hang out with my friends and eat that food too,” he said.

This sense of community among peers differs from Willis’ typical Seder experience with his family, but he enjoys the company and camaraderie of being with his fellow Hillel members. 

“I miss my Bubbe, but at the same time, I like to change it up a bit. I did 18 years with my family, so I’m moving out. I have a little more freedom now,” Willis said.

Many Hillel members expressed gratitude for the community and camaraderie of the Seder gathering.

“My grandmother passed away a couple of days ago, and part of the Jewish mourning process [is] whenever there is a big celebratory event like Passover, you’re meant to celebrate it and pause room mourning,” said Golden. “I’m very grateful that we’re having this event here and the turnout has been so great. I just feel like I have this large community that’s here supporting me.”

Alexis Lewis, a Hillel member who was at the Kasteel Well campus last Passover, said this year was an opportunity to celebrate the holiday in proper form.

“I had to put together a Seder for the four Jews who were [at Kasteel],” Lewis said. While she found that experience rewarding, she is happy to have a larger gathering to be a part of this year. “There is a lot of turmoil even within the community right now, and so being able to just have like a peaceful moment where we’re all just celebrating together is very nice,” said Lewis.

Sanborn echoed this sentiment.

“Having such a large group of people who are here to celebrate Passover and just be together … is just a really lovely example of Jewish joy continuing… during these unprecedented times,” she said.

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About the Contributor
Bryan Hecht
Bryan Hecht, News Co-Editor
Bryan Hecht (he/him) is a freshman journalism major from Havertown, Pennsylvania. He currently serves as an assistant editor of The Berkeley Beacon News section. Bryan also contributes to WEBN Political Pulse and hopes one day to work in broadcast news media. As a member of the Emerson Cross Country team, Bryan can likely be found on a run around the Boston area when he's not writing for the Beacon.

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