Pesach. Ahh, where to start…
After last year’s grand successes, we figured we’d do it again but on a larger scale, maybe even try some advertising. First we got a website, and then came the video 🙂 (huge thanks to Kiderboy, Jordan, Treiger, and everyone else who made it happen)
I think it paid off – they were ridiculously packed:
7 Seders, 180 people the first night; 4 Seders, 100 people the second night!
Perhaps most importantly is the students who led the Seders – 25 students who volunteered to be a part of the effort. Double what we had last year, these were students who willingly (or unwillingly) gave up on the comfort of their home in order to be at Penn, leading Seders for their less affiliated Jewish peers. It was a great mix of student leaders, from the Orthodox and Conservative Communities at Penn, Brandeis and UChicago (though most were OCP), some more religious, some cooler, some on the fringes of the OCP. They all deserve a lot of credit for spending time and effort planning, learning, arranging sessions, breaking into groups, and mentally preparing for the Seders. [Side note: as much as the whole process was intense, important, and meaningful, it was also fun and enjoyable. At least for me :)]
So the Seders – they were all amazing, of course. Even though I could tell how they were by just being there and feeling it, sometimes you have to objectively measure greatness – not an easy task, but I’ll try.
Most of the attendees were Jewishly uninvolved or marginally involved students – some were friends of ours and some were random walk-ins [but they soon became our friends ;)] Most of the Seder ran until 11 or 12, with most participants staying for 3, 4, or 5 hours or until the building closed. One Seder lasted ’til 1:30 AM, getting some late reinforcements from a dance team whose practice ended at midnight!
And the content: we had meaningful conversations about the relevance of freedom and slavery in our lives, singing of Am Yisrael Chai, discussions about the meaning of religion, reenactments of the plagues and Chad Gadya, dancing on the tables, costumes and props, etc. And it wasn’t just the leaders – everyone was engaged, participated, raised relevant points, sang along, acted things out – probably more as the night went on (and the wine kept flowing). One girl who had recently begun learning Hebrew (she started in February with ‘aleph, bet…’) meticulously read one of the paragraphs at the Seder in Hebrew all on her own. An Israeli guy sitting next to her was shocked; I was proud 🙂
By the end, some people were thanking us for the best Seder of their life. One student later said that after hearing and participating in discussions about the meaning of the holiday and its rituals, they decided to try and keep Passover this year (in whatever way they meant). Another guy ended up coming to a learning session that one of us hosted in our house over the last days of chag (more about the rest of Pesach later). At the end of one of the Seders, an uninvolved student asked about Shabbat services and ended up coming to Hillel for services that Friday night for the first time. After services, he stayed for dinner and ended up back in my room for a tisch until 1 in the morning, leaving with a big smile on his face and a promise that he’d be back.
If you don’t call that a success, I’m not sure what is 🙂People already told me they told their parents they’re staying again at Penn to lead Seders next year 🙂 Hopefully we’ll all be in Jerusalem but if not, I know where I’ll be.