What is Passover?
Passover, one of the most celebrated holidays in the Jewish world, commemorates the biblical Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The weeklong holiday is celebrated by munching on matzah, slabs of crisp, unleavened bread, and abstaining from chametz, or leavened food. Other observances include the seder (a ritual meal), lively song, intense discussion and of course, debate.
Unlike many Jewish holidays, one of the primary rituals of Passover, the seder, takes place in the home. Hillels around the world serve as surrogate homes for students during Passover, making the role of Hillel even more important. Some of them may have difficulty being away from their family on this holiday, and others may be first-time attendees at a seder.
In this way, Hillel upholds the commandment described in the Hagadah, the guidebook for the seder: “Let all those who are hungry, come and eat.” Whether students are hungry for brisket and macaroons, or hungry for the warmth of community and the light of Torah, Hillel welcomes them to the table.
This year, given social isolation mandates, Hillel communities around the world will celebrate freedom as a party of one. They may be in an unexpected place with a small group of roommates, or participate in online seders with family members hundreds of miles away.
To help out, we’ve assembled a collection of Passover resources that will empower you to make the holiday meaningful, wherever you are and whomever you are with.
Top Five Songs of the Seder
Music and signing is a key part of most seders. Rabbi Charlie Schwartz, director of content development for the Hillel U Center for Jewish and Israel Education, offers his top five seder songs.
- Order of the Seder: Not the fanciest melody, but this classic Babylonian tune helps teach the order of the various parts of the seder. And there’s also this dressed-up version.
- Mah Nishtanah (The Four Questions): Part of the seder since its origins over 2,000 years ago, these questions (really answers), often sung by the youngest person at the table (or in the Zoom room) form the foundation for the entire Seder.
- Dayenu: An upbeat Ashkenazi classic melody, with some good notes of gratitude as well.
- Eliyahu: A great seventh inning seder stretch song, that welcomes the prophet Elijah to the table. My favorites are this acoustic guitar style version and this Chasidic-dub style version.
- L’shanah Habah B’Yirushalim: The classic ending to the seder, and a good reminder that as Jews, we always hope that in the coming year, the world (and all of us) will be in a better place than we are now.
- Ideas for a Solo Seder: Written by a group of talented young Jews, this piece is full of great tips and tricks to make your seder wonderful.
- The Minimalist's Guide to Passover and Seder: Sometimes, we don’t need to go overboard to celebrate, and this is one of those times. Follow this advice here to have a kosher, but minimal seder and Passover.
- Picking a Haggadah: With so many Haggadot out there, it can be hard to choose. This list has some good suggestions of both Haggadot to download for free, and to buy online.
- COVID-19 and the Challenge of Spending Pesach Alone: From Dr. Michelle Friedman, the head of pastoral counseling at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, this piece gives sound advice to those struggling with isolation.
Pesach — Passover in Hebrew.
Seder — Literally “order.” The seder is the ritual meal on the first night, and repeated on the second night in many homes, where the narratives of the Exodus from Egypt are told.
Haggadah — The text read at the seder.
Matzah — Unleavened bread that resembles a cracker. It's one of the key symbolic foods of Passover.
Chametz — Leavened food that is avoided on Passover.
“Chag kasher v’sameach” — “A happy and kosher holiday” (Hebrew)
“Ah zissen Pesach” — “A sweet Passover” (Yiddish)