The familiar broth scent of matzo ball soup pervades the air, inviting the dinner guests to the table. The buffet table features a smorgasbord of traditional foods eaten during the Jewish Passover.
GC’s Interfaith Dinner is a meal with a mission. Hosted primarily by GC Hillel, GC’s Jewish student life organization, its purpose is to educate guests about religious spring holidays, such as Passover and Easter.
The tables are minimally decorated: a few pieces of egg-shaped Easter chocolates and plastic frogs surround unlit candle sticks. The relics remind diners of the religious significance of the gathering. Like most holiday meals, the group is informally divided between adults and students: a makeshift ‘kid’s table.’
On the first two nights of Passover, Jews celebrate with the Seder, a ritualistic dinner.
“We can’t eat any food that rises, like bread, because when the Jews were fleeing Egypt, they didn’t have time to make bread,” said junior Maryn Perlson, a special education major and member of Hillel. “That’s why we have the matzo bread that doesn’t rise.”
Matzo, a large rectangular shaped bread, is the Jewish lovechild of a Saltine cracker and Indian naan bread.
Each food in the meal has a special significance to the Jewish tradition, and the traditional ritual involves washing hands and praying in a particular system. Seder translates to “order” in English.
Potatoes are soaked in salt water to signify tears shed, and charoset, which is an apple dish sweetened with honey and spiced with cinnamon, reminds guests to think of the sweet times.
This particular event is not intended to be a full-length traditional Seder dinner, which is a highly ritualistic meal involving prayer and recitation, but instead is a sampling of the foods eaten on the first nights of Passover.
“The purpose of the meal is to educate people about Passover and other spring holidays,” said senior Jessica Kleinman, an economics major and president of GC Hillel. “We are promoting diversity on campus.”
In the heart of the Bible belt, non-Christian religions tend to take a backseat. Kleinman said that some students have informed her that she is the first Jewish person they have met. The Interfaith Dinner is an opportunity to unite people of various faith backgrounds and start a dialogue.
About seven years ago, a group not affiliated with GC planted Easter eggs filled with anti-Semitic and racist messages around campus. The creation of the Interfaith Dinner was GC’s response to this act, as it became apparent that hate stems from misconceptions about religions and ethnic groups.
Students attending this year’s dinner sampled some traditional Jewish Passover meals, then engaged in a brief discussion of the holidays that major religions celebrate in spring. At past Interfaith dinners, Rabbis and pastors from the community have come to speak, but this dinner was student-led.
Attendees learned about cultures that were not their own.
“Growing up, I went to bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, but I didn’t know the meaning behind these traditions,” said junior Christopher Nedza, an accounting major. “I didn’t know much about the food or the Jews’ escape from the Pharaoh.”
The meal opens a dialogue to discuss belief systems, find common ground and celebrate differences.
“By learning about other religions, I get a chance to reflect on my religion and what it means to me,” Kleinman said.
“You know, I think, ‘Why do I believe the things I do? Why do I practice these traditions?’”