With hints to the Exodus story itself, for over 40 years Hillel at the University of Washington (Hillel UW) has been serving up Passover lunches for students, young adults and community members. The much anticipated annual tradition has been going steady, and for the most part unchanged, since its inception, including the same faces for much of the program’s history.
That is until this year. A review of how well we were reaching our constituents with the current structure caused staff to pause. In reality, many of our students couldn’t make it to Hillel during the day because of classes, and our young adults in the Jconnect program (ages 21-35) couldn’t slip away from work during the day. As much as it was a beloved part of the community, it wasn’t connecting us with our core focus of students and young adults. Staff decided to have some playful fun with the holiday, and came up with the idea of a Passover food truck, which would bring the holiday to people. Our goals were to reach the students and young adults who are a part of our community and to invite all to celebrate Passover.
With funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, Hillel UW partnered with a local food truck owner who is Jewish (Napkin Friends) to provide kosher for Passover meals throughout the week around the greater Seattle area. The Passover food truck was wildly popular both on social media (#PassoverAllOver) and wherever it stopped. We sold out of food every day, serving approximately 1,000 people throughout the week.
Retaining the personal touch of our Passover program was essential to our success. Staff members accompanied the truck each day, connecting with people, building community, and ensuring that people felt like they were a part of the Seattle Jewish community.
The menu featured the truck’s specialty of latke-pressed sandwiches with a Passover twist. There was the Dy-Dyanu—a brisket version, the Afikomen Finder with chicken and a hidden piece of matzoh, the Shmearless Shmear featuring salmon, and the vegetarian option Charoset with the Mostest—charoset, roasted root veggies and fresh spinach. All food was kosher for Passover, and the truck itself was kashered by Hillel UW’s rabbi.
The truck made stops where we knew young people worked and lived, including the University District, the Microsoft and Amazon campuses, and the headquarters for both Expedia and Starbucks.
We were blown away by the success of the Passover food truck while in reality perhaps we shouldn’t have been. Paying attention to the needs of those we serve and taking a risk to add an updated spin on tradition always seem to lead to good things.
The Passover food truck's first customer at the Amazon campus takes his first bite.
Customers line up outside the Microsoft campus waiting for some delicious lunch from the Passover food truck.
Josh Furman is Hillel UW's Director of Programs and Strategy and Jennifer Cohen is Hillel UW's Director of Development.