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Students prepare for Passover

After enjoying a long day filled with relaxation and fun, the Gans family watches as the sun sinks below the surface of the horizon. But unlike the setting sun, the family is far from done with the events of the day. In fact, their celebration is just beginning.

Like the other six million practicing Jewish people living in the U.S., the Gans family will be celebrating the eight-day religious holiday known as Passover starting on April 19 at sundown.

According to Laurel Gans, the president of Hillel, the Jewish organization on campus, Passover is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the Jewish people’s escape from slavery into Egypt as recounted in the Old Testament of the Bible.

According to the Bible story, a number of plagues were sent down by God in an attempt to free the Jewish slaves from their Egyptian captors. On the night of the tenth plague – which killed all of the Egyptian first-born sons – God spared the Jewish first-born sons. As a result of the death and destruction, the Egyptians agreed to free the Jews and released them into the desert.

‘When the Jews were escaping, they did not have time for their bread to rise and brought with them unleavened bread as they wandered through the desert,’ Laurel said. ‘Because of this, during Passover, Jews cannot eat leavened bread.’

Instead, Jewish people eat a form of unleavened bread called Matzo, which is similar to a cracker, Hillel Vice President Stephanie Gans said.

And though there are a number of other dietary restrictions that make the eight days of Passover unique, the event is typically associated with long and complex meals known as Seders.

During the first two nights of Passover, Jewish families put on a special dinner complete with prayers and the reading of the Haggadah, which recounts the Jewish liberation from slavery.

‘The dinners are normally extremely long and they can get very tiring, especially for the little kids,’ Stephanie said. ‘We complete part of the rituals before the meal, then we eat, and then we continue the rest of the events after we’re finished eating.’

One of the events Jewish believers partake in during the course of the Seder meal is the hiding of the Afikomin, a piece of matzo that is hidden by the leader of the Seder meal, Stephanie said.

‘At my house, the children will run and find it and whoever gets to it first receives some money,’ she said. ‘Normally, we’ll just end up giving everyone some money so there are no tears from the little ones.’

Another important icon of Passover is the Seder Plate, which is a special plate containing symbolic Jewish foods, Stephanie said.

Each of the six items arranged on the plate have special significance to the retelling of the Jewish exodus story.

The items include: Maror and chazeret, which are bitter herbs representing the harsh slavery the Jewish people endured, Charoset, which is a sweet, brown pebbly mixture imitating the mortar used by the Jewish slaves while building the storehouses of Egypt, Karpas, a vegetable that is dipped into salt water to represent the tears of the Jewish slaves, and Z’roa and Beitzah, which are typically roasted meats and eggs that symbolize the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, Stephanie said.

And though Passover is considered one of the most important holidays in the Jewish religion, many colleges do not offer worship services or opportunities for Jewish students, Laurel said.

In an effort to give Jewish students on campus the chance to celebrate Passover, Hillel will be having a Seder meal of their own on April 24 at 6 p.m. in the Union.

‘It’s really important that people are able to celebrate religious holidays while their at school,’ Stephanie said. ‘It makes them more at home to be celebrating things they’ve done since they were children.’

For freshman Ashley Berman, being able to celebrate and rejoice in her religion while she’s enrolled in school is vital to her spiritual growth.

‘It’s lonely sometimes because I’m the only Jewish girl I know on my floor,’ Berman said. ‘It’s nice to have a place to go to celebrate and be proud of my religion.’

And though all three girls do find it hard to celebrate Jewish holidays because of the dietary restrictions and the lack of synagogues near campus, they have still managed to remain strong in their faith through their relationships with God.

‘Faith isn’t all about the celebration of the holiday,’ Berman said. ‘Faith, strong faith, is about your internal connection with God.’

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