At sunset on Wednesday, roughly 170 students at the University of Virginia celebrated the start of the seven-day Passover holiday with a gathering at the Brody Jewish Center to hear Rabbi and Executive Director Jake Rubin lead a Seder feast.
Jewish people around the world participate in Seder, which means “order” in Hebrew, on the first night of Passover to retell the story of the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt, as described in Exodus, the second book of the Hebrew and Christian bibles.
Truman H. Brody-Boyd, assistant director of development at the Brody Jewish Center told The Daily Progress on Friday that Seder is often a time for family, friends and congregants to come together.
“One of our core values as the Brody Jewish Center is being our students’ home away from home,” Brody-Boyd said. “For us, that means on times when Seder falls in the middle of the week, like on a Wednesday, we provide that Seder experience for them and we give them all the comforts that they would have had at home.”
The students, who only just returned from spring break a few weeks ago, had the opportunity to participate in a true Seder meal on Wednesday evening, Brody-Boyd said.
On a traditional Passover Seder table, there is a Seder plate, where each food is symbolic of an aspect of the Passover holiday.
A roasted lamb shank represents the Paschal lamb sacrificed at the first Passover; an egg represents spring and the circle of life; bitter herbs represent the bitterness of slavery; charoset, a mixture of apples and cinnamon, represent the mortar used by the Jews in Egypt; greens, often parsley, represent spring.
Also on the table is matzah – cracker-like unleavened bread, that represents the bread the Israelites took with them when they fled Egypt.
The students on Wednesday also participated in the storytelling aspect of Seder, taking turns reading about the Israelites being freed from slavery in Egypt from a pamphlet that included excerpts from the Bible and instructions on when to eat each item on their Seder plates and the significance of each of the food items.
The meal included everything from whole Seder plates to “tons of amazing delicious brisket that Rabbi Jake prepared,” Brody-Boyd said.
“We tried to make it as welcoming and as warm as inclusive as possible,” Brody-Boyd said. “So whether we’ve seen that student 10 times this year, only one time this year or this is their first thing with us, they feel a part of the community and they feel that they’re welcome and feel included. It’s really vital to us to provide that space for them, and it’s really meaningful for us to be able to be that home away from home for our students.”
After feeding and educating UVa’s Jewish student population, the leaders at the Brody Jewish Center introduced the “Passover Around Grounds” program, providing students with their own Seder kits to share with their own communities of friends, roommates and peers.
“It’s a really meaningful way for them to take control of their Jewish identity and start to form their Jewish tradition,” Brody-Boyd said.
Starting Friday, the Brody Jewish Center will provide students with Kosher meals for lunch and dinner through the end of Passover at sunset on Thursday. Leaders from the center will host the Passover meals in the center on 1824 University Circle.
Meanwhile, in downtown Charlottesville, Congregation Beth Israel, Virginia’s oldest standing synagogue, held its first Seder celebration on Wednesday at the temple since before the pandemic made it unsafe to meet in-person.
“We have somebody who cooked for us every year, and singing and prayer the rabbi played the guitar for the congregation for Seder,” a congregant who asked not to be named from Congregation Beth Israel told The Daily Progress. “So it was a celebration of the exodus from Egypt, which is what Passover is about, and it was wonderful to get our community back together. It was absolutely beautiful.”