For the 12th year in a row, Paul Buch, the cantor Temple Beth Israel in Pomona, led a Passover Seder Wednesday in the Campus Center Ballroom.
Roughly 70 people gathered for the Jewish ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover.
Members of the University of La Verne’s Jewish cultural club said this event is usually a person’s first introduction to the Jewish religion.
“We are one community no matter where we come from or where we are going. We are here together to celebrate this festival of Passover and festival of freedom,” Buch said. “More of us come together for Passover Seder to join in common observance than any other time of the ritual year.”
Buch has been the cantor at Temple Beth Israel for 15 years.
Melanie Browdy, president of Hillel, was emotional as she thanked the audience for attending the event. Browdy, senior business administration major, said the club had never had a turnout of this magnitude before.
“I have had a rough patch as a Jewish student attending the University of La Verne,” Browdy said. “I have had awful experiences with anti-semitism which made me so emotional to see the support of people who were interested in learning about this culture.”
In Hebrew, the prayer “L’dor Va’dor” translates to “from generation to generation.” Browdy said the story of Judaism is always told from generation to generation, which made the turnout more meaningful for her.
“People are rarely introduced to someone who practices Judaism,” Browdy said. “For a lot of people, today is their first time involved in an event relating to Judaism. It made me feel so good seeing people who are open and not judgmental.”
Buch walked the Seder participants through a Haggadah, the Jewish text that sets the order for the Seder, with various prayers, songs and rituals.
Buch said the Hebrew term “k’i-lu” found throughout the Haggadah text, which translates to “as if,” empowered him to look at religious concepts in different ways.
“It is not about what I believe, but it is what I experience,” Buch said. “I can experience anything as if it were absolutely factually true without necessarily having to believe without any evidence it is true. If we mature and grow intellectually, we can use symbols to stimulate our imagination.”
Buch reminded the audience that Wednesday was not only an important day for Jewish history in celebrating Passover, but also an important day in American history.
“Fifty years ago today was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.,” Buch said. “From a freedom perspective, Dr. King and the movement for African American liberation over the last couple of hundred years of American history was rooted in the symbolism of freedom of the Israelites in slavery in Egypt.”
In the Haggadah, a page described how the Torah asks people to teach their children four times about the Exodus from Egypt.
The rabbis says there are four kinds of children, each of whom learns in a different way: the wise child, the defiant child, the simple child and the child who does not know how to ask.
Judy Holiday, assistant professor of writing and co-adviser of Hillel, found the description of the four children interesting.
“The four children mentioned in the Haggadah are archetypes, but not archetypes of four different individuals,” Holiday said. “Sometimes we are idiots and sometimes we are wise.”
Holiday said this event, which has been a 40-year La Verne tradition, is a celebration of religious freedom and freedom from oppression for every identity.
“The spirit of the holiday is wonderful, but it is also great to celebrate since we do not have a large Jewish presence on campus,” Holiday said. “As a diverse campus and part of our core mission, we must celebrate all varieties of difference present on campus.”
Nicole Temple, sophomore biology major and vice president of Hillel, said an event like the Passover Seder depicts the importance religions embody.
“Hosting this event at La Verne helps increase tolerance,” Temple said. “People can have a healthy interest in different beliefs in the world to help them see their way is not the only way.”
Temple said that in light of the current political atmosphere, it is more important than ever to have people take a stance.
“Every group who has ever been oppressed needs to make it clear that we are here, we are present and we are not backing down toward any oppression, hate or ignorance that may grow in the passage of time.” Temple said.
Temple said participating in a Seder can help someone experience the true meaning behind certain religions.
“It is very easy to be put into this ‘us’ and ‘them’ ideology,” Temple said. “Anything someone is told about a religion is a rumor until they encounter it for themselves and can discern what is true or false about them.”
The more Temple learned about other religions, the more she noticed people who practiced different religions were just like her.
Browdy said she is grateful events like building the Sukkah for Sukkot and the Passover Seder take place at La Verne, but is sad to see the size of Hillel slowly dwindling because of minimal student participation.
“In Judaism, when it comes to nurturing fruits and vegetables they say you are supposed to have six good years and one bad year,” Browdy said. “It is a part of life. I hope people will come to see the real value of learning about other people’s religions, traditions and cultures.”
Layla Abbas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.