The Passover Seder

by Megan Eide '19

In all of my college career, I never expected to hear anyone say “singing the Table of Contents was so much fun!”, but, thanks to Lucy Nelson and numerous other attendees of the Passover Seder, I can now check that one off my bucket list. Additionally, I can also cross off chorusing animal noises with nearly two hundred students and faculty members, drinking grape juice while leaning to the left, and cheering on my friends in the hunt for the hidden matzah. As I explained to my parents, “You really had to be there.”

Truly, I wish all of the Gustavus campus could have piled into Alumni Hall and participated in what was, by far, one of the greatest hands-on learning opportunities I have ever had. This interactive event was filled with joyous singing, traditional readings, delicious food, captivating customs, and (of course) an abundance of laughter.

For me and my Introduction to Judaism class, our Seder experience began earlier that week in the Dining Services’ kitchen. Here, the cooks generously (and perhaps with some justifiable trepidation) supervised as we chopped dozens of apples for the charoset (a sweet combination of apples, walnuts, and grape juice), prepared maror (“bitter herbs” or, in this case, horseradish), practiced singing in Hebrew, and took turns wearing the “horseradish pungency” protective goggles.

On the day of the Seder, we also helped Event Services set up the hall, and, thus, we were the first ones to question why there was an extra wine glass and half of a beet arranged in the middle of every table. Of course, all of our curiosities were satisfied that evening. Because of our background (however brief) in Judaism, we were invited by Dr. Marian Broida, our professor and the passionate organizer of this event, to be table hosts. As hosts, we not only had the honor of wearing the white kippahs (skullcaps), but we also assumed the responsibilities of leading our tables through the readings and traditions and answering (to the best of our abilities) any questions the guests posed.

Despite my limited knowledge, I was delighted and proud to explain to another first year student that the reason haggadahs or the handbooks appear to be bound on the wrong side is because they are traditionally written in Hebrew, which reads right to left. Furthermore, I was also able to share with her the sacred history behind this celebration: a Seder is a ritual meal during the holiday of Pesakh (Passover) which commemorates the Exodus or God’s delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

After a brief introduction by Dr. Broida and Dr. Casey Elledge, the Seder began with the candle-lighting ceremony, also known as the kindling of the festival lights. Then, we rehearsed and sang the famous “Table of Contents Song” in which we reviewed the steps for the Seder. Following this order, we first blessed the day and the grape juice, and then we watched as our Seder leader, Dr.Broida, performed the ritual handwashing. Next, we got to taste the first delicacy of the evening: karpas or parsley dipped in salty water. Once we divided the matzah (unleavened bread, symbolizing the bread that the Israelites packed in their quick flight from Egypt), we each took turns reading the story of Exodus and listened intently as the youngest person in the room, Anje Bunge Dulin, asked (in perfect Hebrew!) the four questions on the significance of Passover.

Additional highlights before the meal included dripping juice on our plates to symbolize the ten plagues, drinking our juice in the reclining style of the Greeks and Romans, and singing a number of traditional hymns and songs. Fortunately for this tone-deaf participant, we were instructed and led in these melodies by Dr. Mary Gaebler and Anya Rodgers, who also conducted a singing workshop the week prior. After a scrumptious and very filling feast of matzah ball soup, chicken marbella, glazed carrots, potato kugel, and flourless chocolate cake, we were fully fueled for the rest of the evening.

As is customary in Judaism, we then recited the blessing after the meal. Following an exciting and competitive search for the Afikomen (a hidden piece of matzah), we underwent preparations for the arrival of the Prophet Elijah. In doing so, we opened the hall doors, poured juice into the wine glasses in the middle of the tables, and watched in wonder and amazement to see if the cups were partially drained of liquid. Truly, a room full of adults staring anxiously and intensely at these wine glasses was one of the best Kodak moments of the night!

At last, our merrymaking came to a close with the singing of a few final songs, including the beloved “Table of Contents” one last time. Leaving the Seder with my kippah still pinned to my head, the haggadah wrapped in my arms, and the phone numbers of some new friends in my contacts list, I once again reflected on why I chose Gustavus: for its passionate community of students, professors, chaplains, and administrators who are enthusiastic about extending interdisciplinary learning beyond the classroom. And, of course, for the amazing food.

Table_of_Contents
     Reading from the Haggadah                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
Lots_of_tables     Participants pack Alumni Hall                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Amy_Seham       Preparing to bless the matzah                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Two_tables_action    Drinking while leaning to the left                                                                                                                                                     Individual_shot      A reflective moment