April 9, 2009

Students Break Matzah Over Seder Table

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Transforming from a track to a dining room, Barton Hall seated 50 tables of Cornell Jews and non-Jews last night as students celebrated the first night of Passover at Cornell’s Super seder. As in years past, Cornell Hillel hosted The Super seder in coordination with Cornell dining.
Amy Pearlman ’09, former Hillel President, said that there are a number of driving ideas behind the Super Seder, “it gives people an opportunity to celebrate the Passover holiday, rather than going home — especially in the middle of the week — and it’s a great opportunity to bring the whole community together, and maybe include people who aren’t Jewish. Everything is provided for you, you can just bring your friends — Jewish or not — meet people you don’t know, and have a really nice experience.”
While Super Seder is primarily organized to give Jewish Cornell students a place to celebrate the holiday, Pearlman said that Super Seder is open to the greater community to give people “a taste of what Passover and judaism are about, and there is a small number of local community members that come [to Super Seder].”
There were 50 simultaneous seders — each held at a different table — led by a “table leader.” Pearlman explained that “each table has a different theme, the idea is that people who just sign up and don’t know anyone can choose a Seder that sounds like what they want their Passover experience to be.” Themes ranged from a musical Seder, to a sports Seder, to a multicultural Seder.
Although some table leaders are involved with Hillel, this is by no means a pre-requisite. Pearlman said that table leaders are “sometimes just people who want to host a table for their fraternity or sorority, club sport, or campus organization. Or, sometimes just random friends.”
Chana Leib, the Jewish learning initiative educator for Hillel, explained that she and her husband Rabbi Jason Leib run “a program on the campus called JLIC – Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus and we are together with Hillel”. As a part of the Leibs’ role they coordinated “the content part of the Super Sedar. So, while Cornell dining, and the Kosher dining, provides the food, the set-up and the logistics, we provide the program.”
Leib said that “we held training for the table leaders where we ran through what was going to happen throughout the evening … the [Super Sedar] is a really elaborate ceremony so it was good for [table leaders] to get a refresher course on what was going to happen.”
Leib noted that “the ceremony is very interactive, that is the way it’s built — its about asking questions and the participation of the students, so we emphasize [the table leaders] really need to let everyone participate…”
Jacob Shapiro ’10, current president of Hillel, revealed that most of the work for Super Seder is done prior to the Seder – “orienting table leaders beforehand, putting time into making sure all the materials are available to the tables, making sure there is enough food …” Shapiro credited the Leibs for guiding students through “the bare bones of [the Seder]” which included the logistics of where the food would be, and what the timing would be, but “then they let the students do what they want to do [at their tables]. The Leibs were present at the Seder for help, should it be needed, and they both lead tables of their own.
Leib said “I think a lot of people associate the seder with family so it’s a little bit of a different experience. [But] I hope people are open to the new experience of doing something else, and I hope they really enjoy[ed] it and that they felt at home, as much as a gym can feel at home, as well as enjoyed being with their friends and having a good Jewish experience.”
It seems that Super Seder was a success. Michelle Clair ’11 said that the Super Seder was her “first Cornell Hillel event, and it was really fun.”
Amy Burkoff ’11 said “I love Super Seder. I think it’s really great that everyone can find a seder that fits their needs at Cornell. It’s also really fun. You can attend a smaller seder but you can be a part of the Jewish community.”
Abby Grauman ’11 gave the food good reviews, “I liked the matzah balls in the matzah ball soup this year … there was a definite improvement [in the food] because there were no matzah balls [in the soup] last year.”