Seder Options Much Too Tempting to Passover
In a living room on Cedar Street, twenty or so people sit on plush chairs in a crammed circle. As they chant together, they repeatedly dip their pinky fingers into cups and dab droplets of red wine onto plates.
This is not a hypnotic water-coloring party. This is Passover Seder 2007.
For a small institution, Oberlin’s Jewish population is remarkable: one out of every three students is Jewish. Just after break, many of these Oberlin Jews congregated across campus to celebrate an important holiday in the Jewish religion Pesach, which is translated to “Passover” in English.
Pesach, the name of the lamb offering and the overall name for the festival, is the Jewish festival that celebrates the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt during Biblical times.
Kosher-Halal Co-op celebrates the Passover holiday every year. With 36 members, it is one of the smaller co-ops in OSCA and about half of its students are Jewish. For the holiday, the co-op admits about 20 new members who observe the holiday.
Its large dining hall located on the first floor of Talcott was the host of a Passover Seder meal for the first night (Monday) of this year’s holiday.
It was free for members of the co-op and five dollars for the rest of the student body. The three-hour meal, which was run by Hillel, incorporated the various seder traditions.
The co-op prepared extensively for the Seder. In addition to a super-commando — the characteristic OSCA cleaning process done twice a semester — students blow-torched metal countertops and poured boiling water over all other kitchen surfaces.
After disposing of all leavened products and storing their rest-of-the-year kitchen items, they brought out a completely different set of kitchen items and special food for Passover.
The co-op seder is not the only one on campus. Junior Sheera Bornstein helped to organize an alternative seder on Cedar Street. For Bornstein, who was celebrating the holiday away from home, this one was less about tradition and more about friends.
She invited a number of her non-Jewish friends and encouraged her Jewish guests to do the same. The Jewish participants often paused to explain the meanings of Hebrew words and Seder traditions, or to inject anecdotes from Seders past.
Besides the two parents from Philadelphia visiting their daughter, the Cedar Street participants were all students.
After the blessing of the third cup of wine, the demographics became apparent. In true Oberlin fashion, the dinner menu included a plethora of vegan-friendly dishes.
After all the wine and chocolate matzah cookies had been consumed, the remaining guests had trouble closing out the night’s festivities.
“Let’s just ride it out till tomorrow morning,” one croaked, excusing himself from the search for the Afikomen. The Afikomen, which means dessert, is the piece of matza that is eaten after the meal and in some traditions is hidden for the children to find.
For the second seder on Tuesday night, about twenty students, including temporary co-op member junior Sarah Rosenthal, attended a seder at the home of Rabbi Shimon Brand, the Jewish chaplain at Oberlin.
While the Monday night service was more ritualistic, Rosenthal said this one was more intellectual.
The prayers and dinner were followed by discussions of the holiday and the wider Jewish faith. The service lasted from 9 p.m. until 3 a.m.
On-campus celebrations were not the only ones in which students participated. Junior Rose Reid attended a seder on Tuesday night at the home of Jewish Studies and History Professor Shulamit Magnus. She, like many other Oberlin Jews, appreciated the sense of community available during such a family-oriented holiday.
“It was really nice to be welcomed into someone’s home when I wasn’t able to be with my family,” Reid said.
With such a large Jewish population at Oberlin and with varying Jewish practices, Passover, which ended this past Tuesday night, was complete with diverse observances.