Crazy to think that even over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still new firsts to be had. But here we are, celebrating Passover on the Brandeis campus for (what I believe is) the very first time in Brandeis history. Despite the novelty and COVID-19 restrictions, Passover was a smashing success, executed almost flawlessly.
My biggest concern about the holiday was the food. Many Jewish people restrict their diet to not include chametz, a category of food that includes wheat and other grains. Many Ashkenazi Jewish people also cut out kitniyot, a category of food including rice and corn. Considering the typical menus of Sherman and Usdan, I was more than worried about what I would eat throughout this entire week. Thankfully, Brandeis Hillel was very accommodating.
Sign-up sheets went around in March for Passover meals, but my hopes were low. I expected this to be standard Sodexo food just made in a new area. I was floored to see catered food in the Faculty Club, served buffet style with new menus every day. I can say with certainty that this is the best I’ve ever eaten during the Passover week. Every day, I was treated to delicious entrees and a variety of sides. Some of the highlights include matzo ball soup, turkey with mashed potatoes, hamburgers (with buns!) and tuna salad sandwiches. While tuna salad may not seem that exciting, I tend to be wary of the fish served on campus, so having fish that I knew I could trust was an incredible moment.
Best of all, as you may have noticed, there was no shortage of kosher for Passover pastries. Typically, I survive the week on matzah, deli meat and kosher for Passover potato chips. This year, I was eating better than I ever have on the Brandeis campus. Each meal had a new set of treats, from buns (for sandwiches) to muffins to cookies to cinnamon rolls. These baked goods tasted almost exactly like standard baked goods!
Also a pleasant surprise were the actual Seders. For the first night, I ordered a “Seder To Go” meal, and, for the second night, I attended one of the Seders led by Baruch, the Reform Hillel group. I assumed the “Seder To Go” kit was going to be a little takeout box or two, similar to what was in the dining hall. What I got was a giant bag that weighed a billion pounds and an additional box on top of that. I think everyone else was also stunned by the amount of food, as I watched many people struggle to carry their food back to their dorms. (Shoutout to my wonderful roommate Gretchen who helped me!) When Hillel said they were going to provide everything needed for a Seder, they really meant it!
The box and bag were full of literally every aspect of Seder. Items provided included a plastic Seder plate, all of the necessary additions to the Seder plate, plastic cups and plates and utensils, a note from Hillel and a ton of food. We got brisket, potato kugel, broccoli, gefilte fish, desserts and an entire box of matzah. Like I said, a ton of food. Needless to say, I was very impressed. Perhaps most exciting was the plague finger puppets that Hillel was giving out as people checked in to pick up their goodie bags. I had the best time putting together these little felt puppets with my roommates. None of them are Jewish, but I think they might have actually had more fun than me.
The second night I attended an in-person Seder. This was definitely a little more hectic, but still ran pretty smoothly. We started a little late, and I got a little lost, but I chalk that up to my poor sense of direction rather than the bad instructions. The Seder itself ran smoothly. Each of us there had our own table full of necessary Seder supplies, basically everything from the to-go kit. It was really nice to be able to share this holiday with other people.
The only snag in this entire process was on Saturday night. I went to get dinner at around 7:15 p.m., only to find a locked door and a sign informing me that dinner would not open until 8:30 p.m. I’m assuming that this is after Havdalah services, but it was frustrating to not get food. I ended up going into Sherman, eating only fruit and yogurt for dinner because I was too hungry to wait for the proper dinner. That being said, only having one issue the entire week is a very good success rate.
For weeks before Passover, I agonized over what I was going to do over these eight days. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. The process was smooth and easy: Seders were fun and all of the food was delicious. I really hope that next year I will be able to go home for the holiday, but if I had to celebrate on campus again, I know it would be wonderful!