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Tradition kept alive through model seder

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Students, faculty and the community of La Verne gathered for a model seder in the spirit of Passover, a commemoration of the Jewish exodus from Egypt.

The event was held March 27 in the President’s Dining Room over a traditional Passover seder dinner led by Rabbi Leslie Bergson, Jewish chaplain and hillel director at the Claremont Colleges.

The event, an abridged version of a full seder, included a retelling of the historical, cultural and religious importance of the Passover holiday, which begins on April 19 this year.

“The seder is a way to see ourselves as if we were freed from Egypt,” Bergson said.

Bergson first read aloud from the Hagaddah, which tells the story of Passover.

Then she turned to the roughly 40 participants and invited them all to take part in the retelling.

Though there are several ways to tell the story, this particular hagaddah involved a condensed retelling mixed in with songs and prayers.

“It talks about the freedom of Egypt, as well as the subject of freedom as a whole,” Bergson said.

The ceremony began with the lighting of candles since Jewish holidays begin at nightfall, Bergson said.

The seder continued, paying particular attention to a small selection of food on the table to be eaten at specific times during the ceremony.

Among the foods were parsley, to be dipped in salt water; matzah, a cracker-like substance to replace leavened bread; and horseradish for the matzah, to remind people of the bitter times.

Traditionally, the matzah, or afikomen, is broken in half, the larger portion of which is placed back into the plate of matzah, and the smaller into a cloth pouch.

When holding the seder at home, many Jewish families hide the afikoman and let the children find it for a reward.

“This is the point where it becomes an invitation to attend the matzah feast,” Bergson said.

Another important focus of the seder is the retelling of the 10 plagues of Egypt.

Since wine is a symbol of joy in the Jewish celebration, removing 10 drops from the cup of wine onto a napkin with the pinky finger symbolizes the reduction of joy.

“This part is for remembering the suffering of Egyptians,” Bergson said.

Traditionally, four cups of wine are consumed throughout the ceremony, each after a different prayer is said out loud.

Because the University of La Verne is a dry campus, combined with the fact it was not a full seder, grape juice was substituted.

Questions were encouraged since nearly half the participants reported this was their first seder.

“Since the ceremony relies on numerous cups of wine, do people ever get a little tipsy?” one curious participant asked during the fourth cup of grape juice.

Bergson said that many people claim that their first drunken experience occurred at a Passover seder.

The model seder is an important celebration at ULV, particularly because of the school’s commitment to diversity and culture.

“When we hear diversity, we usually only think of ethnic diversity, but it’s important to think of religious diversity as well,” said Don Pollock, professor of communications, who is responsible for coordinating the model seder annually along with Campus Minister Debbie Roberts.

The model seder is a tradition at the University that dates back more than 20 years.

Nearly 40 people attended the seder this year – a mix of students, community and religious figures.

“In the past years, as many as 80 people attended,” Pollock said.

“I thought it was a good introduction to the Passover religious ceremony,” said Ari Robbins, a Jewish audience member.

“It was good to see all the different types of people in the community take interest – not just those who are Jewish, but those who are interested in learning about diversity,” Robbins said.

Lesley Michaels can be reached at

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