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The Cornell Jewish Community celebrate Passover with safe Seders.

March 30, 2021

Cornell Jewish Community Celebrates Passover Through Socially Distanced Seders

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Cornell’s Jewish community has come together to celebrate Passover, holding Seders in students’ homes, at Base Ithaca and in dining halls to gather for the spring holiday. 

Cornell Hillel assembled Seder care packages so students could have their own small gatherings with their pods at home to celebrate the Passover, which commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery. Hillel also partnered with Cornell Dining to hold Seders at 104 West! and Trillium. 

Cornell Dining helped facilitate the Seders by clearing the dining hall of leavened bread. Because Hillel staff is unable to be on campus due to the pandemic, Hillel student leaders led the dining hall Seders. 

Base Ithaca, an extension of Cornell Hillel, also hosted an in-person, socially distanced Seder on Sunday evening. The Seder took place in the backyard of Rabbi Hayley Goldstein and her partner Lizzie Sivitz in three separate hour-long sessions, with 10 masked guests per session. Participants told the story of Passover and discussed what the story means to them, in addition to reading from the book of Haggadah and following food-related rituals.

“It really is a story of immigration,” said Rabbi Ari Weiss from Cornell Hillel. “It’s both a specifically Jewish story, and it’s a universal story as well.” 

Base Ithaca is also holding an online Queer Seder on Tuesday evening. Goldstein explained that the theme of liberation is central for many people in the LGBTQ+ community. 

“Especially those of us in the LGBT community can really relate to that feeling of constriction and hiding, and going into freedom and celebration,” she said.

In previous years, Hillel held what Weiss called a “Super Seder” at Robert Purcell Community Center, which consisted of many differently themed Seders. Past RPCC Seders have included a Harry Potter Seder and social justice Seder along with more traditional gatherings. 

Weiss explained that this format embodies the Jewish and Hillel community on campus. 

“People come from many different places, and they all connect very differently. But they are all celebrating in the same space,” he said.

Last year, Passover occurred after students were sent home in March, so Cornell Jewish organizations had to finound creative ways to celebrate online

This year, however, Seders offered Cornell’s Jewish community a welcome opportunity for socially-distanced in-person gatherings. 

“I really liked the Seder because it felt like a small slice of normalcy during an otherwise tumultuous semester,” said Fannie Massarsky ’24, who attended Sunday’s Base Ithaca Seder.

Goldstein said the story of Exodus feels especially resonant now. During the Base Ithaca Seder, when participants shared what the story of Exodus meant to them, one student said that due to the pandemic, the story meant simply leaving her room to her. 

“Normally we can’t relate to the story on that literal of a level, so there’s something really powerful about just celebrating and getting to be together more as things start to look more hopeful,” Goldstein said.