IU’s Helene G. Simon Hillel Center is offering two weeks of Passover programming. Events include cultural workshops and Seders, traditional ceremonial dinners.
Passover is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, as recorded in the Book of Exodus. It is one of the most celebrated holidays among Jews around the world and in Israel, said Rabbi Sue Silberberg, executive director of IU Hillel. This year, the holiday will last from Saturday evening to April 4.
IU Hillel will offer several in-person Seders, including a Diversity Seder on Thursday open to everyone in the IU community and a Beyonce-themed Seder on March 31, according to its website. All in-person Seders will be in the front lawn tent, following COVID-19 guidelines, Silberberg said. The Seders will allow 25 attendees each in-person, and all need to be masked unless they’re eating. All meals will be individually packaged.
Virtual options are available for the first and second night Seders on Saturday and Sunday.
Hillel also offers kosher for Passover meal plans on its signup site throughout the holiday, including lunch and dinner. On Wednesday, it will host a virtual Passover workshop where participants can learn how to lead a Seder.
Senior Michael Mitgang is a program associate at Hillel and a member of its Passover planning committee this year. For him, the holiday is traditionally a time of gathering for his 50-person extended family. This is his first time planning events for Passover. He said he hopes to bring his family’s tradition to the IU Jewish community.
“I think that there are a lot of students that can't get to go home, or they live far away from home,” he said. “And definitely Hillel provides them the experience of, what I talked about, growing up with a 50-person Seder.”
Mitgang has fond memories of his family’s Seders, especially the food.
“That’s just the memory I have, of just having the best matzo ball soup every year, and I’d look forward to it,” he said.
IU Hillel Student President and junior Benjamin Harris said his fondest Passover memory is hiding the “afikoman”, a half-piece of matzo, for the children to find. Matzo is a traditional flat, unleavened bread and a central part of the Passover holiday. It signifies the rushed departure of the Israelites from Egypt because they didn’t have time for bread to rise.
“We always joke that it tastes like cardboard – it’s kind of a Jewish joke,” he said.
Silberberg said an integral element of the Passover Seder is telling the story of the Exodus with family members at the dinner table. She said the Passover story creates an empowering atmosphere in which communities retell their history and celebrate their freedom.
“One of the key responsibilities of having freedom is make sure that no other people are oppressed, and so Judaism really teaches us that lesson through Passover,” she said. “Because to have that experience can help us remember how important it is to never enslave another person.”
Silberberg said much like the 10 plagues descended on Egypt in the Book of Exodus, the past year was plagued with disease, extreme weather, inequality and racism. She said this year’s Passover will be more important than ever as an occasion for communities to unite.
“I believe that part of the way to overcome that is by taking care of one another as a community and by bringing communities together,” she said. “And really recognizing the strength that we have as a community to make the world better.”