Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, people are constantly having to find a new normal in all aspects of life. One of the challenges of social distancing and the closure of businesses all around the world is the difficulty in celebrating holidays like Passover.
“Passover is a time to be with your loved ones,” said Tessa Rubinstein, vice president of the Jewish Bulldogs. “I think that was a really difficult thing for everyone this year of not being able to see everyone that you typically see and celebrate the lives that you want to celebrate and be with the people that you want to be with.”
Passover, which took place April 8 – 16 this year, is a Jewish holiday which celebrates the liberation of Israelite slaves from Ancient Egypt. Traditionally, people celebrate this holiday by getting together with family and enjoying a special dinner called a Seder for the first two nights. During this meal, they pray, sing songs and retell the story of the Israelites being freed from slavery.
“For us, it’s less of a time of sadness and more of a time of liberation and a time that we were able to become free from the slavery that we had been in for such a long time,” said Hannah Presken, a member of the Jewish Bulldogs.
Among the Seder plate is a variety of foods that each symbolize a part of the story. It typically includes saltwater to symbolize the tears that the Israelites shed during slavery, parsley to symbolize spring, a hard-boiled egg to symbolize life, 10 drops of wine to symbolize the 10 plagues that encouraged the Egyptians to free the Israelites, Charoset (a combination of apples, walnuts and cinnamon) to symbolize the material the Israelites used to build pyramids for the Egyptians and a shank bone to symbolize how the Angel of Death passed over the houses that had lamb’s blood above their doors during the last plague.
Another essential food for the Seder plate is matzo ball soup or some other form of matzo, which is a kind of unleavened bread.
“It’s basically like a giant saltine cracker,” said Olivia Jacobs, member of the Jewish bulldogs.
When the Israelites were initially freed from the Egyptians, they rushed out and didn’t have time to cook food for the journey or wait for the bread to rise. For this reason, the entire eight days of Passover require participants to give up bread and flour and replace it with matzo.
“It’s kind of just a time of remembrance,” Jacobs said. “You’re taking away some of the pleasures that you normally have, you know, just having like a cookie after dinner.”
Considering “Seder” is the Hebrew word for “order,” the service is usually a very meticulous and organized ordeal. However, this year has allowed for some inevitable modifications because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rubinstein was not able to go home for Passover, but she was still able to celebrate with her family over FaceTime. Since she was not afforded the opportunity to physically sit around the table with them, she held a second Seder with her roommates, who are not Jewish.
Rubinstein took that chance to experience what it’s like to lead the service, considering her dad is usually the one to play that role.
Though it varies each year and for each family, Rubinstein and several others use the Seder to reflect on the freedoms they currently have, as well as recognize those who do not have as much freedom.
“It just gives you a time to reflect a lot,” Rubinstein said. “To reflect on those who might be oppressed groups today and be suffering from violence or might be marginalized.”
This year, Rubinstein acknowledged those who are sick because of the virus, those who have lost a loved one due to the virus and those who have become unemployed in the pandemic.
Other GU students did have the opportunity to go home and celebrate Passover with their families but still faced adversities.
Even though Presken’s family didn’t have sufficient time to prepare this year and most of the stores were sold out of matzo, they were still able to scrounge around the house to find foods that represented something meaningful to them. Rather than celebrating Passover in the strict traditional sense, they valued their freedom in being able to adjust their practice in this time of turmoil while still acknowledging the significance of the holiday.
Jacobs was also able to go home for Passover this year and celebrate with her immediate family. They even took advantage of Zoom and had a virtual Seder which allowed their extended family from different states and different time zones to join.
The Jewish Bulldogs often celebrate religious holidays, like Passover, together, but not all of the members are actually Jewish. A lot of them are people who just want to learn more about the religion and their practices. A common thread among the group’s beliefs about this holiday, in particular, is that it is beneficial to view the story in a modern-day sense, which would make it applicable to more than just those of Jewish origin.
“We, as Jewish people were freed as slaves, but there’s still so much injustice in the world,” Presken said. “What can we do to change that? What can we do to help the rest of the world that’s still enslaved? And how can we help give freedom to the rest of the world?”