Jewish student groups prepare for Passover seder

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Texas Hillel cooks prepare food for the organization’s annual Passover celebration Thursday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Five cooks chopped carrots. Forty-five pounds of brisket sat in the refigerator, waiting to be cooked. Among the piles of ingredients lining the kitchen counters, bread — in fact, all products that contain yeast — were conspicuously absent.

This was the scene inside the kitchen at Texas Hillel, the Jewish student organization, Thursday afternoon. Community members prepared for one of the biggest holidays of the Jewish calendar, Passover.

Passover, which commemorates the liberation of Israelite slaves from Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus, is an eight-day holiday during which Jews around the world celebrate freedom and renewal.

As part of the holiday, which begins Friday, Texas Hillel is hosting a seder, a ceremonial Passover dinner where scripture readings will take place, and traditional Jewish food will be served. Margo Sack, Texas Hillel director of Jewish student life, said anyone is welcome to come to the seder.

“We welcome all students to this ceremony,” Sack said. “It’s especially incumbent of us at a place like UT to understand and learn about each other to promote dialogue and understanding. These seder nights will do that.”

Sack said one of the most iconic Passover foods, matzah, demonstrates the meaning behind all aspects of the seder. Matzah is a flat, cracker-like version of bread, made under specific regulations and without any yeast. Sack said its significance derives from the commandments found in the Hebrew Bible and from the legendary story of Israelites not having enough time to let their bread rise when they were fleeing Egypt.

Less than 600 feet from Texas Hillel at the Chabad House, another Jewish student organization, students and staff were preparing for a crowd of about 100 people for the first of two seders Chabad will host, according to Rabbi Zev Johnson.  

Johnson said Passover is a holiday from which everyone can draw meaning.

“This holiday is all about freedom,” Johnson said. “Freedom not just for the Jewish community, but freedom that we try to find for every community, as we remember not only our suffering but the suffering that still happens all over the world.”

Attendance at this year’s Texas Hillel and Chabad House seders will likely be half of what it usually is because the holiday falls on a weekend, which means many students will travel home instead of staying on campus, Johnson said.

Even if turnout is low, the two Passover events give those who do attend a chance to learn about culture and religion, said undeclared freshman Rachel Wright.

“Passover is a community holiday that brings everyone together,” Wright, who is Jewish, said. “Even if you’re not Jewish, I think it’s a good opportunity to explore and learn.”