Before coming to the University of Kansas, sophomore Paige Harris celebrated the Jewish holiday Passover with her family in her hometown of Buffalo Grove, Illinois. She describes herself as being very involved with and prideful of her religion, and a part of that to her means celebrating the High Holidays.
Harris was concerned about finding ways to observe the holidays at college when she knew she couldn’t travel home to celebrate with her family as she did in the past, especially when she realized that Passover fell in the middle of the week this year.
As a solution to this problem that many students face and also to act as an additional resource to the Jewish community in Lawrence, KU Chabad hosts events for every High Holiday, including Passover.
“Just being able to have that outlet of being able to go somewhere… It is like that home away from home feeling,” Harris said. “Not everyone can go back for the holidays, especially when it’s during the week, or you live far, but just being able to go and have that meal with other people…you almost feel like you are home.”
KU Chabad hosts two nights of Seder in celebration of Passover every year at the Chabad at KU house, which is located just off campus.
The Seder began with all attendees making a Seder plate of their own, featuring six Kosher items that are symbolic of the Exodus story, including matzo, a green vegetable, a lamb shank bone, an egg, bitter herbs, and haroset, which is a mixture of apples and cinnamon. The plate helps to tell the story of how Israelites escaped enslavement and left Egypt, through the power of Yahweh their god, who has chosen them as his people and to who they now belong to.
After making a Seder plate and returning to the table, attendees found prayer books and songbooks at their seats to follow along with Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, the rabbi for KU Chabad.
Tiechtel led the group through the 15 steps of the Passover Seder, which are completed over the course of four glasses of wine, with each step and each glass representing a different part of the story.
The four glasses of wine are meant to be poured at different parts of the ritual, and each represents four moments of redemption as expressed by God in the Passover Story in the Torah.
Harris said the Seder was a lively event, which featured excitedly leading the group through prayer and songs, his kids and family reciting Proverbs in Hebrew and Yiddish, and the crowd getting involved with questions about Passover. She emphasized that the Seder is open to anyone and everyone and encourages them to come.
“It’s always just fun because they have so much energy, so you never really get bored,” Harris said. “It’s not just KU students who go to Chabad for Passover or any other High Holiday; it’s the whole [Lawrence] community that is welcomed.”
Although the way Chabad celebrates Passover is different from how Harris does at home with her family, she said that she has still found that sense of home and connection to her religion with them by participating in new traditions.
“The Chabad is very Orthodox, my family is very reformed… We also have two nights of Seders, and the first night was very similar to how we do it at home, but the second night is what my dad calls a ‘ten-minute seder’ where we just say everything quickly to get to dinner,” Harris said. “It’s kind of nice to see that different perspective that even though we’re both Jewish, they still celebrate it in a different way, so it’s fun to be a part of that family tradition.”
Hannah Smuckler, a sophomore from Overland Park, Kansas, felt similarly about the celebration, saying that it was different from what she did at home but still an experience and resource she was happy to have for Passover. This was her first year celebrating Passover away from home.
“Passover at Chabad was definitely more traditional, and it was a different approach than I’ve experienced before, and I really did enjoy it,” Smuckler said. “They emphasized different traditions, which was cool… It’s a Seder, so everyone is doing the same stuff. It’s just really what you choose to emphasize.”
Smuckler said she knew she wouldn’t be able to make it home to celebrate Passover, so she looked for ways to observe the holiday on campus. She attended Seder at KU Hillel, another Jewish organization on campus, and at Chabad on the first night, but she wanted to make sure she could observe both nights.
“I definitely wanted to spend the second night of Passover somewhere, and I heard Chabad was hosting a night two, so my friends and I decided we should definitely go back,” Smuckler said. “It’s like a Jewish Thanksgiving… So everybody does their own thing, but I’m glad that I have a community at KU with whom I can celebrate.”