Students adapt to celebrate Easter, Passover during the pandemic


Illustration by Roxanne Panas

Hillel’s food service was the only Passover-appropriate, kosher on-campus dining option during the weeklong celebration. Students were able to pick up lunch and dinner to-go and free of charge.

Zoe Malin, Reporter

Celebrating Easter usually involves attending church, while celebrating Passover includes large seder dinners with family, but COVID-19 caused students to observe their respective holidays differently this year.

Coronavirus safety measures like the closure of places of worship and shelter-in-place orders forced people to adapt their traditions. Still, social distancing did not stop people from enjoying the holidays.


Many Christians celebrated Easter this season by attending live-stream services from their local church. Julie Windsor Mitchell, campus minister and executive director of the University Christian Ministry at Northwestern, said churches across the country have been using platforms like YouTube, Facebook Live and Zoom to broadcast services.

“Churches want people to feel included and welcome in this online space,” Mitchell said. “It’s one way for people to feel together even though they’re physically apart.”

Every year on Easter Sunday, Mitchell said, University Christian Ministry has a sunrise service at Evanston’s Clark Street Beach. Mitchell missed celebrating with the community she loves this year, she said.

However, to carry on the tradition, Mitchell told members to wake up for the sunrise wherever they are, take a picture and share it with the group. Members then met over Zoom on Sunday evening, which they’ve done every week since COVID-19 safety measures closed campus facilities.

“Even though COVID-19 is happening and we’re surrounded by suffering, Easter is still coming,” Mitchell said. “Easter is about hope and the promise of rebirth and renewal. Nothing can stop that.”

As Easter approached, the concept of faith also took on new meaning in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. Father Kevin Feeney, chaplain and director at Sheil Catholic Center, described having faith as “trusting God even when everything around you is madness.” He said this is truer now more than ever.

“I’ve heard stories about people helping one another and showing acts of kindness,” Feeney said. “These moments are witnesses of faith and help us believe that something wonderful will follow this storm.”

Additionally, Feeney said the coronavirus prompted families to create or continue holiday rituals that go beyond the religious aspect of Easter.

Weinberg sophomore Sarah Eisenman and her family have a deeply rooted Easter tradition. In 1991, Eisenman’s parents, Joanne McAndrews (TGS ’94) and Larry Eisenman (Feinberg ’97) were both NU graduate students. They celebrated Easter by eating dim sum at a Chicago restaurant with their friend, Anne Lipton (Feinberg ‘96). Eisenman’s parents have continued the tradition every year since, passing it on to Eisenman and her sister.

Although Eisenman and her family could not go to their favorite restaurant this Easter due to COVID-19 restrictions, they picked up dim sum from a local eatery in St. Louis, where they live.

“Easter is not about religion for us,” Eisenman said. “It’s about spending time with family.”


“How is this night different than all other nights?” is the main question that the Haggadah, a Jewish text, asks during Passover seder. Upon hearing it this year, Communication senior Jessica Paridis said she thought about what was missing from her Passover Seder due to the coronavirus: a table filled with her best friends.

Paridis said reciting the 10 plagues brought down on the Egyptians as retribution for Jewish enslavement hit close to home, too.

“We said it jokingly, but it’s kind of true that coronavirus is the eleventh plague this year,” Paridis said. “It’s very easy this year to relate themes of Passover to things we are all seeing in the news and in our own lives.”

Michael Simon, executive director of Northwestern Hillel, said many students observed the eight days of Passover this year by attending Zoom seders and cooking traditional food. Simon said Hillel created a page on its website dedicated to virtual resources, like an online Haggadah. Hillel staff reached out to students via email to offer support, too.

Hillel also paid for some students’ Kosher for Passover food. It hosted a Zoom seder on the second night of the holiday and continues to meet for Friday night Shabbat every week online. Overall, Simon said the organization is doing everything it can to connect its community.

“People are being creative and making the best of a really challenging situation,” Simon said. “It’s important during this time for us to stay true to our values and care for one another.”

Weinberg junior Tamar Jacobsohn, Hillel president, said she admires how hard the organization worked to create a support system for members during this time.

Jacobsohn usually sees her extended family during Passover and attends seders with over 20 people. Though this year’s celebration only included her immediate family, she said it was special in its own way.

“Passover was a very different experience this year and we made it work,” Jacobsohn said. “It’s something I’ll definitely always remember.”

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Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Weinberg junior Tamar Jacobsohn’s last name. The Daily regrets the error.