Students facing campus Seder test

Naomi Firsht
21 April 2016
The Jewish Chronicle

Why is this university term different from all other terms? With Pesach falling late this year, the majority of UK students are faced with the challenge of celebrating the festival on campus, something that last happened in 2008.

But student organisations and local communities have rallied to provide students with Passover packs, discounts and support to ensure a joyful Pesach away from home.
The Union of Jewish Students has published a “Pesach on Campus” guide, which includes instructions on how to kosher a kitchen, plus explanations of the Exodus story and Seder night.

To help with the cost of the holiday, UJS has also secured a 10-per cent discount for students at kosher food store Titanics, a Pesach Shabbat meal for just £3 per head and free Pesach treat boxes.

For a small fee, the Oxford Jewish Congregation is offering students a daily kosher for Passover meal throughout the festival, at the local community centre.

First year student Dov Boonin, 20, said: “It’s difficult to keep Pesach when you’re not at home. But the support from the community, JSoc, and the chaplain is making it much easier.”
In Birmingham, which has one of the largest JSocs in the country with around 1,000 members, chaplain Rabbi Fishel Cohen has provided a Pesach dairy kitchen in the Hillel House, as well as an oven and microwave for heating meat meals. Subsidised Hermolis ready-made meals have also been made available.

At Warwick, students will be using their own Pesach-ready kitchen for the first time.
Across the UK, chaplains are hosting Yomtov meals. University Jewish Chaplaincy is supporting 18 Seders this year. At campuses without on-site chaplains, the organisation finds local families to host students.

North-East region chaplain Rabbi Aaron Lipsey, together with Leeds Aish rabbi Adam Ross will provide evening meals on festival weekdays for students in Newcastle and Durham.

Joshua Woolf, vice-president of Lancaster JSoc, which has around 15 members, said he would be restricted to studying near his home or the JSoc room so he could keep to the dietary rules. The JSoc will host its own UJS-subsidised Pesach Friday-night dinner and, for the second night Seder, members of the Lancaster and Lakes Progressive community will join students on campus for a pot-luck dinner.

Mr Woolf, 20, said: “We’ve been so lucky with the help offered by the local community and UJS. I’m quite proud of how everyone is clubbing together. Without it, keeping Pesach properly would be almost impossible. Throughout the week, it is still going to be quite difficult.

Due to different university dates in Scotland, students there are more used to dealing with the festival falling during term-time. At St Andrews, Seder night is the JSoc’s biggest event of the year. President Kathryn Rose said she is expecting 60 students, the highest turnout yet. She said: “It is more important than a regular Shabbat dinner. Students bring friends. And people who are not usually that involved in JSoc like to come as well.”

Last week, Scotland chaplain Rabbi Yossi Bodenheim delivered Pesach packs filled with matzah and other supplies to St Andrews students. Rabbi Bodenheim and his wife Sarah will host a Seder at their home in Glasgow. His regular bagel lunches at Edinburgh, St Andrews and Glasgow universities will be replaced with matzah ones.

Rabbi Bodenheim said: “It is more complicated in Scotland because you can’t just get stuff from the supermarket. Students need our direct help and really need our support at Pesach.”

Liberal Judaism has sent out Pesach packs to more than 200 students; each contains a Haggadah, matzah and inserts on the theme of Pesach.

Liberal Judaism chaplain Rabbi Leah Jordan is encouraging students to focus on the festival’s spiritual message of liberation.

“Students should not feel a sense of guilt at what they cannot accomplish. Just do what you can. Get together with other like-minded people – either through Pesach learning or meals and focus on the meaning of the festival.”

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