Student-led seders mark a different kind of night

Each spring, many Yale students celebrate Passover with their friends by hosting private dinners. Many are continuing a practice they grew up with, but these are not your Bubbeh’s and Zaideh’s Seders.

Student-led Seders take many forms, but most aim to mix traditions from home with some college students’ affinity for intellectual conversations and red wine — or grape juice.

Stephanie Kissel ’05 and Toby Merrill ’05 said they were looking forward to running their first student-led Seder this year.

“You can still share in this family event, but replace them with friends,” Kissel said.

The Slifka Center makes the student-led Seder an easy task for students including Kissel and Merrill, who took advantage of the center’s offer of almost all the Seder essentials, students said. In order to host a Seder, a student simply needs to submit a list of names and social security numbers to Slifka, which then takes care of just about everything but the wine. All students have to do is pick up the food the day of their dinner.

Kissel said she appreciated the Slifka program. Although Slifka offers its own Seders, Kissel said they recognize that “it may not be a student’s first choice.”

Randall Rubinstein ’06 said he helped organize the Seder for Alpha Epsilon Phi, the Jewish fraternity on campus. Slifka was a big help, he said, although they left out a few things needed for the Seder — including the salt water for dipping the parsley — but he said no one got “too upset.”

“It’s just like any other thing you’ll organize,” he said. “There’ll be problems with the logistics, but if you want to do it, it’s worth it.”

Kissel and Merrill said they planned to host a Seder that would encourage their friends to bring in practices from their childhood Seders.

“Our plan is to have everyone introduce their traditions from home,” Merrill said.

Merrill planned to place an orange on the Seder plate, something her mother picked up from “some feminist Seder,” she said.

Kissel sad she used a Seder plate that she made in Hebrew School when she was six years old.

“I want to show how much it’s been a part of my life since childhood,” she said.

Rubinstein’s Seder also incorporated traditions from home, he said.

“We went through the Passover Seder doing what was important to each of us growing up,” Rubinstein said.

But Kissel also wanted to take a more mature approach to the dinner, bringing “a Yale perspective” to the table, she said.

“We’re definitely hoping people will bring things that they’ve discussed in their own lives,” Kissel said.

In the past, she has attended other Seders led by Joshua Bendor ’05 and Isaac Klausner ’05 which she said placed an emphasis on explaining the Haggadah. She said their diverse dinners were “wonderful” because of their clarification of the history and symbolic significance.

Bendor said their Seders are meant to encourage a diverse group of Jewish and non-Jewish students alike to contribute to the dinner.

“Our student-led Seders have been relatively participatory,” Bendor said.

Bendor stressed another aspect of student-led Seders that set them apart from his childhood experience — the four cups of wine. By the end of the meal, he said, all tend to be “singing rather loud, raucous Jewish songs.”

Jeffrey Kessler ’05, who hosted a 40-person Seder on Tuesday, said it was “purely a social event” for him, while his roommate took the dinner more seriously. He said they covered the essentials of the Haggadah, but the Seder was largely about having a good time with friends.

“I love singing and drinking and we had a lot of that,” Kessler said. “Everybody was into it.”

Observers of the Jewish holiday of Passover participate in a seder at Slifka on Monday evening. Many students also hold independent seders.
Zoe Pershing-Foley
Observers of the Jewish holiday of Passover participate in a seder at Slifka on Monday evening. Many students also hold independent seders.

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