April 18, 2011

Cornell Super Seder Celebrates Passover

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As night fell over Central Campus, 400 to 500 students and family members gathered in Barton Hall Monday to celebrate the first night of the Jewish holiday Passover at the annual Super Seder.The Seder, coordinated jointly by Cornell Hillel and campus dining, commemorates the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt by celebrating a ritual meal with six symbolic dishes, as well as readings from the traditional Seder text, the Haggadah. While the annual event in Barton Hall follows this traditional outline, there are several differences which set the tradition at Cornell apart, according to Orly Halpern, engagement associate for Cornell Hillel.“One of the really exciting things about our Seder is that we actually have about 50 Seders happening at one time,” Halpern said. Halpern explained that while a traditional household Seder is held at one table comprised of “10, or maybe even forty people if you’re really popular,” the Cornell community does things differently.“Since we really try to stay together as a community, we want to be in one room,” she said. “But to do that we need to have 50 or 60 different tables.” At least 10 people sat at each table, which was directed by a “table leader” who has been trained by Hillel to lead the Super Seder. Cornell Hillel President Adam Fisher ’12 noted the variety and personalized experience that the 50 leaders bring to the Passover event. There are “themes ranging from a traditional Seder done entirely in Hebrew, to one highlighting the Passover themes of liberation and their connection to the American Civil Rights movement, to one conducted to the tunes of classic Disney animated films,” Fisher said.Twenty five such themes, each tailored to different parts of the Cornell community, were featured Monday. Other themes included “The Gentile’s Table”  — described in the program as a “very chill Seder” — “Dan’s Mystery Seder” and “Matzah for Hunger,” the last of which posed the question “what does Passover teach us about social justice?”One table leader, Menachem Polishuk ’11 introduced a thematic element into his Seder by dressing up as Pharaoh with a friend. “I might pretend to be Pharaoh for a bit,” Polishuck said. “But actually … a lot of what we do at the Seder is role playing. We try to put ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors.” Victor Haas ’13, also a table leader, described the difference between his Seders at home and his experience last year at Cornell. “It was a little more rambunctious and informal,” he said. “My Seders have always been pretty traditional at home, so it was a nice change of pace.Many freshmen said this was their first Seder away from home.“It will definitely be different, but I’m excited for it,” Michael Wotman ’14 said. “This is the first Seder where I can embrace the holiday with my friends.” Although the majority of participants were Jewish, many non-Jews were in attendance as well.Miesque McCandless ’11 was one such participant. “I’m actually an Episcopalian, but the people I had talked to said it was a lot of fun, so I decided to come learn more about it,” she said.

Before the event, Fisher predicted that of the 500 Seder attendees at least 40 to 50 would be non-Jews.

The general atmosphere was one of a celebration.Participants strolled around tables to get Matzo-Ball soup, pausing briefly to laugh and comment about the tables led by Pharaoh and other Egyptians. In one group, students laughed as they struggled to remember the words of a traditional Jewish song. Most of the participants agreed that Cornell’s Seder was noticeably different from traditional family Seders, but few seemed to mind. “At home, it’s more of a traditional atmosphere. Here, it’s really a cultural and traditional event. It’s cool to see so many people I know in the same place, especially so many non-Jews,” Polishuck said. Nate Schorr ’12, leader of a traditional family-style Seder, summed up the general feeling of the event. “This scale is just tremendous,” he said. “It’s great to see all these people under one roof.”

Original Author: Will Ryan