Star of David

"Jewish Star; Star of David" by Alex E. Proimos is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

“L’chaim, L’chaim,” we chant at the dinner table, “to life!”

Each year, my family comes together to celebrate Passover, a time defined by hope and tradition, family and togetherness and, of course, my mom’s delicious foods.

All last week, I was eager to return to my hometown in North Carolina and gather with my family in celebration of my favorite Jewish holiday. This year, however, Passover looked a little different.

As a freshman out-of-state student traveling home during a pandemic, I experienced new challenges in anticipation of Passover. Because this is my first year in college, I had to plan ahead on my coursework to ensure I could fully celebrate. Additionally, I scheduled multiple COVID-19 tests to make sure I did not bring the virus into my home. After a series of negative tests, I packed for the weekend, drove four hours to reunite with my family and participated in this important Jewish holiday.

Passover celebrates the survival of the Jewish people after escaping slavery in Egypt. It promotes hope for the future and encourages us to look back on our Jewish history in order to recognize gratitude for where we are now. We celebrate with a Seder, a special family meal where we perform prayers and traditions, as well as eat foods of symbolic significance to commemorate past Jewish events. Throughout the week, our house is stocked with Matzah in place of bread, as this unleavened bread symbolizes both the Hebrews’ suffering while in bondage and their rapid departure from Egypt.

Unfortunately, a majority of students at the University of Georgia neither acknowledge Passover nor understand its importance. Schools and colleges around the country have seldom recognized the importance of Jewish holidays, and with anti-Semitism still existing on American college campuses, educating people on significant Jewish traditions and allowing Jewish students time off to fully celebrate them should be a priority.

It’s always guaranteed that other religious holidays, like Christmas, will fall during school breaks. Yet this is rare for Jewish holidays, which can fall on different days each year based on the Jewish calendar.

While I am used to working my religious traditions around my schedule, this Passover posed new challenges as I am far from home for the first time. I wish UGA gave us a little bit of time off so that those who want to enjoy the holiday can do so without the stress of falling behind on schoolwork. I’m fortunate the holiday fell on a weekend this year. Otherwise, it would have been much more difficult to celebrate.

Despite the challenges, the sense of togetherness this Passover was more meaningful than ever. My grandfather, whom I have not been able to hug since before the pandemic, is now fully vaccinated. I embraced him for the first time in over a year and, with my multiple negative tests, I was beyond grateful that he could enjoy this special family celebration without the fear of COVID-19. My brothers also traveled home from school this weekend, and I loved spending time with them, as we are all currently miles apart.

Most members of my immediate family have been vaccinated, but we were not able to have the usual large Seder with our extended family as the virus still looms. This did not change the importance of the holiday or the traditions that come with it. My mom cooked her annual Passover dishes, such as her special “baby eggs,” the recipe for which has been passed down over generations, and a perfectly-prepared shepherd's pie. We enjoyed one of the best Seder meals yet.

To me, Passover is a time of family. It’s a time of hope, tradition and joyous celebration. With the new challenges of this year, being together as a family and engaging in this significant Jewish holiday meant more to me than ever before.