Jewish students mark Passover’s first night

by Rocky Thompson

University Jewish students unable to journey home Wednesday convened on campus to observe the first night of Passover.

Freshman Marcia Orcholoski would ordinarily attend Seder – a traditional meal commemorating the Jews’ escape from Egyptian slavery – at her uncle’s house. But this year she celebrated at the Hillel Jewish student center with approximately 65 other University students.

“Usually you go to a house. It’s a little different,” said Orcholoski, who said she plans to attend a Seder the following night at the home of a friend.

The eight-day holiday began at sundown March 27 and ends at sundown April 5. During Passover, Jews reflect on their freedom and how their heritage exists in their lives today, Rabbi Sharon Stiefel said.

“Passover is to tell the story about how we were slaves in Egypt and became liberated from that bondage,” said Stiefel, Hillel’s associate director.

The Seder meal includes bitter herbs dipped in salt water to represent tears, which symbolize the sadness Jews endured as slaves.

When the Israelites fled Egypt, they left in a hurry, which didn’t allow them time to add yeast to their bread. During Passover, Jews abstain from eating foods with yeast or grains or any food coming into contact with those ingredients, said Tafat Ostifeld, a Hillel employee.

“For many students, that means they won’t eat in the residence halls, so they eat their meals at Hillel,” Stiefel said.

Hillel offers kosher food – meals adhering to the dietary restrictions of Passover – for students and community members. The food is served in Hillel’s cafeteria all week.

Students living in residence halls can eat kosher meals at Hillel for free during the weekdays of Passover. For those living off campus, meals are $5 per student and $8 for non-students.

Stiefel estimated 90 percent of Jewish homes celebrate Passover. Since Seder is usually observed in homes and with family, Hillel tries to make its service a home away from home for students.

Jeff Cohen, an economics sophomore, came to the University from Lexington, Miss. This year was his first Seder at Hillel.

He said Passover is important as a time to celebrate with other Jews, and said the atmosphere at Hillel feels comfortable.

“I don’t live around here and I’m used to it every year,” Cohen said.