‘An experience in collective memory’: Students find community in Passover celebrations


Daily file photo by Ava Mandoli

Hillel serves as a hub for Jewish students, especially during holidays such as Passover.

Talia Winiarsky, Reporter

SESP freshman Aimee Resnick has been busy in her dorm’s kitchen since Sunday, cooking foods including two different kugels, lasagna, a vegetable stew and cake, and will finish this Wednesday evening. All of the items will be kosher for Passover, which means they won’t contain any leavened products like bread.

Resnick is one of many Jewish students at Northwestern participating in a seder, a ritual to celebrate the escape of the Jews from Egypt as a part of the Passover holiday, which will start Wednesday and end April 13. Students can host seders in their homes and dorms, or take part in the tradition at NU Hillel and NU Chabad.

The word “seder” translates to “order” in Hebrew, NU Hillel Campus Rabbi Jessica Lott said. A couple thousand years ago, rabbis designed the ritual to tell the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt in a question-and-answer format. The youngest participant at the seder asks four questions of the adults, prompting them to tell the story. 

“It’s really an experience in collective memory,” Lott said. 

Weinberg freshman Haley Shamah will participate in two seders for Passover, one with her family at home in Milwaukee on Wednesday, and another she will co-host at Hillel for first-year students on Thursday.

While at home, she will participate in her family’s seder traditions, including enjoying her dad’s Sephardic date charoset, a dip eaten on Passover. She said she planned ahead to ensure she would be back in time to celebrate the holiday at NU as well, she said. 

“I have been really fortunate to be able to find a Jewish community on campus at Hillel,” she said. “Having that Jewish community all year has definitely been really helpful and made my college experience so much better.”

McCormick junior Briana Segal will be one of the hosts for Chabad’s seder, but said she wasn’t always very active in Jewish life. When she first arrived at NU, Segal said she had to determine how to make room for Judaism in her own life independent of her parents. She didn’t attend a seder at Chabad last year, she added. 

“Going to services has never really been my thing ever since I was younger,” Segal said. “But, the community and the culture is always what’s interested me.”

However, following a rewarding experience in Chabad’s Sinai Scholars program that allowed Segal to deepen her connection with Judaism, she decided to be one of the eight seder hosts. She will observe the rules surrounding food for the whole holiday. 

While several students view Passover as an opportunity to connect with the Jewish community, Resnick will host her seder to share Jewish culture with non-Jews. She said she anticipates about 25 people will attend the seder, which will be at her dorm, Shepard Residential College. Of the attendees, she expects only about three to be Jewish. 

“As a Jewish individual, when we’re talking about tikkun olam, and the idea of making the world a better place, that means bringing people together in cultural integration,” Resnick said. “It’s important to have a Passover Seder to support that cross-cultural growth that tikkun olam teaches.”

Beyond the seder ritual, some students observe rules surrounding food, abstaining from leavened bread and possibly other grains. 

Lott said Hillel will offer lunch and dinner to students looking for Kosher meals, effectively becoming a Kosher dining hall.

“If any student wants to come and connect with the Jewish experience, this is a great time to do that,” Lott said. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @winiarskyT

Related stories: 

Northwestern Hillel hosts Mega Shabbat for first time since 2020

Students and faculty express frustration over lack of class cancellations on Jewish High Holidays

— Local Jewish organizations work to make keeping Passover more accessible