HUC-JIR/LA rabbinical student leads Passover seder at UCLA Hillel - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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HUC-JIR/LA rabbinical student leads Passover seder at UCLA Hillel

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Monday, April 2, 2007

By Annie Augustine, The Daily Bruin 

As sundown approached on Monday evening, Jewish students and community members filtered into an auditorium at Hillel to begin the week-long celebration of Passover. 

Students gathered at Hillel on Monday for the first Seder dinner, and can continue to observe the holiday there if they choose. 

During Passover, Jews observe strict dietary requirements and other traditions. Hillel will be selling Passover lunch and dinner through next Tuesday, and kosher meals will be catered by Bistro Baguette Cafe. Connie Foster, director of UCLA Dining Services, said the Hill will also provide matzah and matzah ball soup during Passover in various dinning halls. Kosher sandwiches are also available at Bruin Cafe. 

Passover celebrates the Jews' exodus from Egypt. The first Seder dinner marks the beginning of Passover, followed by a week of celebration. Seder dinner is a time for family and friends to gather. 

Sara Mason, who led Monday's Seder dinner, is studying to become a rabbi. She is a third-year at Hebrew Union College, a religious institute with a branch in Los Angeles, and works specifically with reform students at UCLA Hillel. 

"Passover is a celebration of freedom. Jews remember times throughout history when we weren't free, specifically in Egypt," Mason said. "At modern Seders we also take time to reflect on people who aren't free in the world today." 

Mason explained that while Seder dinner is usually a private event enjoyed by families in their homes, Seder dinners at Hillel are a time for students and members of the community to celebrate together. Mason stressed the importance of sharing old traditions with each other, while also embracing new ones. 

"I have always celebrated Passover with my family," said Lauren Gerenraich, a first-year theater student. "It's weird not celebrating at home, but it is nice that Hillel provides a place for us to come together." 

The first Seder dinner consists of a cumulation of rituals and customs. Green leafy vegetables and salt water are served and eaten together. The vegetable symbolizes rebirth and freedom and the salt water symbolizes tears that have been cried. 

The breaking of the middle matzah is another ritual enjoyed at Seder dinner. Traditionally the Seder leader or the parents of the family break the middle piece of matzah. The larger piece becomes the afikomen and is hidden. After the dinner, children search for the afikomen and a reward is given to whoever finds it. The broken matzah symbolizes the human condition of being incomplete. 

"When I was younger my parents let the kids hide the afikomen," said Reuth Nir, a first-year undeclared student. Nir said she remembers hiding the afikomen in places where her parents could never find it. She said it was a fun tradition she enjoyed while growing up. 

At Hillel's Seder on Monday evening, guests discussed the different traditions they have. Gerenraich shared that the children in her family put on a play each year and re-enact the Passover story. 

The 10 plagues are recognized at Seder dinner by spilling 10 drops of wine. At Monday night's dinner, Hillel guests also recognized modern forms of slavery, pain and plagues when spilling the 10 drops. During a discussion, guests identified apathy in the face of evil, torture of the helpless, and mockery of the old and weak as modern forms of these issues. 

After completing the numerous rituals, reciting prayers, and giving thanks to God, dinner is served. During dinner the children search for the afikomen, and when it is found everyone eats a piece. 

During the week of Passover Jews empty their kitchens of bread and yeast and instead eat matzah as a tribute to the Jew's flight from Egyptian slavery. 

"When the Jews were leaving Egypt they didn't have time to let bread rise," Mason said. 

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.