The Jewish holiday of Passover (Pesach) began Friday, April 19 and will continue until Saturday, April 27. In most places, Passover is celebrated for eight days, but in Israel it is celebrated for seven. Often overshadowed by the Christian holiday of Easter, Passover is celebrated in honor of the Israelites being freed from slavery in ancient Egypt.
As the story of Passover goes, after decades of enslavement the Israelites were freed after God sent 10 plagues upon Egypt. The plagues were punishment for the pharaoh’s refusal to give the Israelites their freedom, even after God demanded it. The 10th and final plague took the lives of Egyptian firstborns, but “passed over” the Israelites and their children — hence the name Passover.
“In more modern terms, Pesach/Passover is a week typically consisting of attending or hosting Seders (religious service with a lot of food and singing), eating unleavened bread and lots of matzo ball soup and Manischewitz,” Niki Kates (‘20) said.
Those celebrating Passover are meant to avoid “chametz.” According to Chabad.org, “Chametz means leavened grain — any food or drink that contains even a trace of wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt or their derivatives, and which wasn’t guarded from leavening or fermentation. This includes bread, cake, cookies, cereal, pasta and most alcoholic beverages. Moreover, almost any processed food or drink can be assumed to be chametz unless certified otherwise.” This is why Kates and others celebrating Passover will opt for eating unleavened bread, or matzah.
For Kates, while aspects of Passover have remained the same with her transition from living at home to living at Willamette, certain parts are different. She doesn’t think it has to be a bad thing.
“I used to go to my local synagogue Seder, and then a much less formal Seder at my friend’s house. Her mom makes the best matzo ball soup,” Kates said. “Now, I usually go to the Willamette Seder. It’s actually open to the community and Rabbi Ellison is really good at making the service fun and accessible. The WU service is much shorter and more laid back than the one at home, and personally I don’t see that as a bad thing necessarily.” WU’s Jewish Student Union (JSU) held a Seder service Sunday night.
Kates recalls fondly one of her favorite Passover traditions, and how her relationship to it has changed over time.
“I always enjoy searching for the afikomen (a piece of matzah that is broken in half and saved for the end of the Seder),” Kates said. “Typically, adults will hide the afikoman and then the children search for it, incentivized by their pride and a small monetary reward. As a kid, the search always felt like a reward for surviving the arduous, hours-long Seder. As an adult, I think it’s adorable to see how excited kids get about looking for and finding it.”