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Passover Seder at Mills teaches new traditions; success for the JSU

Michelle Ma

This year’s Mills Passover Seder, complete with all the traditional items – full Seder Plate, Elijah’s Cup, Family Haggadah, four cups of wine and even some new traditions – was a successful event full of friendly faces and eager minds.

The Seder took place on the third night of Passover on April 4. It was a learning experience to many Mills students who had never attended a Seder before and a comforting night of tradition to those who celebrate Passover every year.

Junior Alison Lazareck and senior Brynn Shiovitz, co-presidents of the Mills Jewish Student Union, led the Mills Seder and were pleased to see the large turnout of Mills students. They emphasized the importance of having a multifaceted Passover Seder.

“[The Seder] is not just open to Jewish students; we like to involve people from all different backgrounds. We hope that all students will walk away knowing or learning something new,” said Shiovitz.

The Mills Seder is also a place of comfort for many students. “For a lot of people it’s hard not being able to go home for Passover,” said Lazareck.

Dyanna Loeb, a sophomore at Mills, said she felt welcomed at the Mills Seder.

“Usually, I’m always home with my family for Passover, so this was different for me. I liked how everyone who wanted [to] could give their input and share how they celebrate,” said Loeb. “It’s good to be involved with more of the Jewish community on campus – to see new faces.”

Jewish students such as Loeb know Passover as the holiday that commemorates the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt. At each Passover Seder, the story is told of the time when the Jewish people, led by Moses, were freed from the Pharaoh’s slavery and wandered through the desert in search of the Holy Land.

At Mills and all over the world, the Passover story is told with the use of a Haggadah (pronounced ha-gad-uh), a special prayer book read during the Seder. At the April 4 Seder, Mills provided a Family Haggadah for each person in attendance, which included songs, games and commentary.

“We tell the story of Passover each year because we’re able to learn it in new ways each year,” said Shiovitz. “It’s a way to remember our history – to pass it over.”

It is a custom for every Passover Seder to include a Seder plate with the traditional foods of Passover. Each table at the Mills Seder had its own Seder plate with a lamb shank, which represents the lamb sacrificed at the first Passover and reminds people that during the tenth plague in Egypt, the Jewish homes were “passed over.” Also on the Seder Plate are the bitter herbs (maror) and parsley with salt water, which symbolize the tears and bitterness of slavery. The chopped nuts and apples (harosetz) remind people of the sweetness of freedom, and the egg symbolizes spring and the renewal of life.

Mireya Inga, a Mills freshwoman who attended the Mills Seder, had much to say about what she learned.

“I’d never been to a Seder before. I knew the stories of the Old Testament, but I didn’t know any of the ritual parts of [the Passover],” said Inga.

“I thought the Seder plate was really great. The salt water surprised me. It was on the table to represent the bitter tears of slavery, a beautiful concept.” Inga said. “Also, we placed one drop of wine on the table for each of the ten plagues that God brought on the Egyptians-it represented [remorse] for the bloodshed of the plagues. I hadn’t thought of the Jewish people respecting the Egyptians like that. It surprised me in a good way that they cared about the Egyptians.”

Aside from the traditional items on the Seder plate, the Mills Seder plate had one more, lesser-known item: an orange slice.

The Family Haggadah at the Mills Seder explained that the orange slice was a result of Susannah Heschel, an advocate for women’s rights and equality in Judaism. The Family Haggadah states that at a lecture by Heschel, “an irate man rose and shouted, ‘A woman belongs on the bimah [pulpit] like an orange belongs on the Seder plate!'” Placing an orange on the Seder plate is now a custom in many Passover Seders; it symbolizes the rights of women and other oppressed groups.
A couple at the Mills Seder told the story of the orange slice. The concept received comments and praise from others who attended.

Co-President Lazareck said, “The Passover Seder goes well in an academic setting because it’s about looking at the symbolism and learning new traditions. Always question and always seek more answers.”

Aside from the orange slice, the Mills Seder had another item dedicated to women. It is a custom at each Passover Seder to include an extra cup of wine on the table for the prophet Elijah. Jewish people said that Elijah will join the Seder and
drink his cup of wine when peace comes to the world.

Following in the tradition of Elijah’s cup, many Jewish families and institutions have begun to put an extra cup of water on the Seder table – a cup for Miriam, Moses’ sister. Miriam’s cup reminds people that while the Jewish people wandered in the desert in search of the Holy Land, a spring of water followed Miriam wherever she went.

Miriam’s spring was a lifeline for the Jewish people, and her cup symbolizes the importance of women’s roles in Judaism.

Co-Presidents Lazareck and Shiovitz hope that events like the Passover Seder will increase support and membership in the JSU.

“I’ll be graduating next semester, so we’re looking for new turnover-new ‘pass-over’-in the JSU,” said Shiovitz, laughing at her pun.

“I think [the Seder] went very well,” said Lazareck. “The JSU has been mostly the two of us this semester. It’s nice to see people getting involved.”