BU Today


Sharing the seder table

Hillel House welcomes all during Passover

The themes typically associated with Passover, the holiday that begins tonight, April 12, and commemorates the end of Jewish enslavement in ancient Egypt, include pain and suffering — at the seder, the traditional meal that marks the start of the seven-day celebration, participants eat bitter herbs and dip greens into salt water to remember the bitterness of slavery and the tears shed. But this year, BU Hillel is adding its own themes to the annual event: diversity and inclusion.

“We offer about five or six different seders, ranging from very liberal to very traditional,” says Jonah Kaplan (COM’08), a copresident of Hillel. “We have someone from each Jewish community.”

Last January, for the first time in BU Hillel history, students elected copresidents from different religious backgrounds — Kaplan, who practices Reform Judaism, and David Askenazi (CAS’08), who is Orthodox. “They thought we were going to have power struggles, they thought we were going to have religious struggles, but it really has been better than anyone expected,” Kaplan says. “We have this wonderful blessing of being able to attract the secular Jews, who want a place where they can be who they are, and we also have Orthodox Jews, who will be able to ensure the continuity of tradition. The biggest challenge is not to exclude people and not to deter people from coming.”

To meet that challenge, BU Hillel has planned seders to appeal to a wide array of practitioners. The meals, all of which begin tonight at 7 p.m. in the dining room of the Florence and Chafetz Hillel House at 213 Bay State Rd., incorporate traditional or modern practices, are conducted in English or Hebrew, and offer guidance for both Passover novices and experts. “Whatever someone feels comfortable with,” Kaplan says, “we’ll have a seder for them.”

For the rest of the holiday, when the eating of leavened food, which includes breads, pastas, and most grains, is prohibited, Passover-appropriate meals will be served in the Hillel House dining room. Students who don’t normally participate in the kosher meal plan are welcome as well, Kaplan says; they will have a regular meal, plus 2.75 additional dining points, deducted from their plan.

The Florence and Chafetz Hillel House is a relatively new addition to campus, completed in May of 2005, and the organization’s leaders are hoping that the new facility will prompt more students to get involved. Anyone is welcome to eat at the dining room, Kaplan says, or use the pool and Ping-Pong tables throughout the building. This week, they’ll be showing the movie The Prince of Egypt on the plasma television.

“It’s up to us to say to incoming Jewish students, ‘You are so welcome here,’” Kaplan says. “This is not an elite place, this is not an Orthodox yeshiva. You can be Jewish however you want — we’re just giving you the opportunity to explore your options.”