This past Friday was the Jewish holiday Passover, which celebrates God liberating the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. I myself am not Jewish; I am Seventh-Day Adventist. We are Christians, however, like members of the Jewish community, celebrate Sabbath on Saturday, participate in sun-down to sun-down laws, and eat food according to the Levitical dietary laws. Another interesting thing that perhaps not all Seventh-Day Adventists participate in, but my church back home does, is acknowledging the Jewish holiday, Passover.
The only thing I remember from the Seder back home is really wanting to just drink the grape juice, but we had to first say this long prayer before each cup. Wanting to experience a real Jewish Passover Seder, I enlisted the help of colleague and friend, Justin Etzine ’18, who took me to RPI-Sage Hillel’s Sedar dinner, which took place in the Rensselaer Union.
While I was informed that the Seder that took place here on campus was not a typical Seder by orthodox standard, I learned much regardless. The evening began with a short play explaining the the story of God’s people in Egypt, followed by a benediction on the holiness of the day, which is called Kadesh. This happened when we took our first cup of wine (grape juice). I got lost often, but luckily, there was a book present at every other seat with the prayers and recitations written out in both English and Hebrew for me to follow in.
The rituals of washing the hands (Urchatz), dipping parsley into salt water (Karpas), breaking the matzah and setting aside the larger piece, the afikoman, for later (Yachatz), eating of the bitter herbs (Maror), sandwiching of the bitter herbs and charoset, a sweet mash of fruits and nuts, between two pieces of matzah (Korech), and the drinking of the second cup of wine with recitation of blessings took place before the meal. It was a very involved experience with Hillel Religious and Cultural Vice President Sarah Notis ’16 leading the group in recitations and songs. Notis invited the guests to break-off into smaller groups for discussion of different Passover-related topics and encouraged those interested to participate in interesting games illustrating the Jews’ freedom from slavery.
The dinner, which is called Sulchan Orech, was served by Hillel President Aaron Markel ’16. The food was excellent; my favorite was the matzah ball soup. After the dinner the hunt for the afikoman was on. Once found and eaten, no other food, bar the remaining two ritual cups of wine of the night, are consumed. This ritual is called Tzafun, which means “out of hiding.” At this point, many of the guests decided to leave. Etzine and I stayed for the after-meal blessing, Barech, and the third cup of wine, before leaving.
The Seder would then finish off with the songs of praise (Hallel), the final cup of wine, and the ritual of acceptance (Nirtzach). I want to thank RPI-Sage Hillel for putting on such a great Seder and for opening their doors to non-Jews such as myself and a few others present. I also want to thank Justin for walking me through, step-by-step, the different rituals, teaching me Hebrew along the way. I will close this article with the closing words of a traditional Seder: “Leshanah haba’ah bee-rushalayim—Next year in Jerusalem.”