By Ilana Williams
You won’t be seeing Rachel Robin eating bread, oatmeal and muffins this week. Neither will plenty of other Jews on campus who are celebrating Passover.
From sundown on April 15th to sundown on April 23rd, Jewish people around the world celebrate Passover, which honors their ancestors’ freedom from slavery in Egypt. The dates of the holiday change every year because Jewish holidays follow the lunar calendar.
It’s also a time for treasured holiday traditions.
“Tradition is your ownership of Judaism,” says Rabbi Eli Backman. Backman runs this university’s Chabad Student Center, a Jewish organization known for their outreach and activities.
Backman and his family start cooking for Passover meals a week or two before the holiday begins.
“On Passover, people generally like to go a level or two above,” Backman says. Sometimes the University of Maryland Chabad hosts up to 50 people for their Passover seders.
Rachel Robin, a junior government and politics and communications major, looks forward to Passover when she helps her mom make matzah toffee crunch and mandel bread, a traditional Jewish cookie similar to biscotti.
“It’s a good time,” Robin says.
During the seder, Robin and her family eat brisket and matzo ball soup. Matzo balls are made of unleavened bread called matzah, which is crushed into a meal and mixed with eggs.
During Passover, observant Jews don’t eat any leavened bread or grain products, known as chametz. As the story in the Haggadah goes, when the Jews left slavery in Egypt, they had no time to let the dough rise, so Jews today remember this by eating matzah.
“Passover is my favorite [Jewish holiday] because it tells a story of generational continuity,” Robin says. “It makes me feel connected to my ancestors.”
Lanie Berger, a sophomore Jewish studies and business management major, says her family members are Sephardi Jews, descendants of Jews from Spain and Portugal.
“Passover is the time our Sephardi roots come out,” Berger says.
She describes one of her family’s customs, making a special type of hard-boiled egg called haminados. They boil the eggs for 24 hours in a pot of water and onion skins.
“The eggshells turn a dark, gorgeous, brown color,” Berger says. “And the eggs themselves taste different.”
Berger’s dad saves the onion peels from Hanukkah when he makes latkes, traditional potato pancakes eaten on Hanukkah, she said. If he doesn’t have enough when Passover comes, he goes to the grocery store and digs through the onions there.
“One time a grocery store worker was like ‘oh you’re making the eggs? I know what you’re doing,’” Berger says. “I’m not exactly sure how that tradition became a Sephardic thing, but I’m certainly glad it did.”
Seders, large familial dinners on the first two nights of Passover, require a Haggadah, a book which contains the instructions for the dinner and celebratory songs. Robin’s family uses a Haggadah that came with a CD. She and her dad start and stop the songs when they show up in the book.
“When we’re talking about the plagues, the little kids get up and jump around like frogs,” Robin says. “Then I’ll push play in the CD and it plays the frog song, and then they sing along.”
Meira Goldfischer, a senior criminology and criminal justice major, says her holiday traditions vary on different sides of the family.
Goldfischer especially enjoys when her family reads the section in the Haggadah about how the Jews were released from slavery in Egypt.
She and her father carry a bag of matzah and chant, “We were slaves and now we’re free.”
“[It] looks a little bit crazy, but also is a really cool way to bring the Seder to life,” Goldfischer says.
On her mom’s side, Goldfisher eats hard-boiled egg in a bowl with saltwater.
“I don’t know why or how that became a thing,” Goldfisher said. “But for me, whenever I think of egg and saltwater, that will automatically be Passover to me.”
Sam Miller, a junior computer science major, and his family hit each other with scallions during the song Dayenu, “it would have been enough,” as part of their Persian Jewish tradition. His family grows their own scallions for this activity.
“We grow our own scallions to make sure that they’re nice and thick and do some real damage to people,” Miller says. One year, his dad “got scallion juice in his eye” during these preparations.
Liora Petter-Lipstein, a freshman public policy major, plays a game with the afikoman at her family Seders. The afikoman is a symbolic piece of matzah that is hidden during the Seder, found later in the meal and eaten during dessert.
Petter-Lipstein’s family performs a call-and-response song, passing the afikoman around the table as they pretend they are leaving Egypt.
Another customary Passover food is charoset, a mixture of nuts, fruits, spices and wine. At Petter-Lipstein’s seder, charoset has the consistency of applesauce.
This year, Robin spent the first seder night with her family and the second night with a friend.
“One of the big benefits of being in college is getting to explore what customs I want to take on for myself and bring into my life when I graduate,” Robin says. “I’m really excited to keep exploring different aspects of Passover and what they could mean to me.”