Passover traditions adapt to changing times

The Stern's Seder plate. Each item on the plate represents an aspect of the Jew's exodus from Egypt.

The Stern’s Seder plate. Each item on the plate represents an aspect of the Jew’s exodus from Egypt.

The celebration is nearly 3,500 years old, rooted in tradition, ritual and strict procedure. But Passover, the Jewish holiday marking the Hebrew’s exodus from Egypt, has become a malleable celebration. It takes on unique traditions and personal values as families observe together.

In time, these traditions change. Some Jewish college students recognize a shift in Passover observance as parents allow their children to adopt their own beliefs, families grow or time simply becomes less abundant.

“We celebrated Passover every year,” School of Visual Arts senior Emily Miller said. “It only became a little stagnant when we all started moving out, and it got harder to get everyone together.”

This year, Miller and her family met for a Seder, the traditional Passover meal, on March 24, before the week-long holiday even began. Some years, they aren’t able to meet at all.

When the Millers do have a Seder, they make their own rules.

“We always have an abridged Seder,” she said. “My dad will sticky note different pages of the haggadah to go through, so we just skip over some parts.”

While some families have grown more lenient in their celebrations, others have become more committed to traditional Passover practices.

Harry Stern emigrated from Germany in the early 1940s. Before he had settled in the United States and started a family of his own, he said Passover was not important to him.

Listen to Harry Stern describe the meaning of Passover.

“In our house, we really didn’t celebrate Passover very much,” he said. “I really started to appreciate Passover after I came to the United States. I appreciate the family getting together to tell everybody the story.”

Now, Harry’s family gets together at least once during Passover each year. His children and grandchildren carry out the lengthy readings together to honor the Hebrew’s struggle.

But for some, the Stern’s Passover dinner is simply a family gathering.

“I kind of think of Passover as a spring thanksgiving of some sorts,” Elon University junior Jeff Stern said. “There is the religious aspect of it, but it’s just a chance for us to remember what we’re thankful for.”

The idea of religion as a second priority in Passover gatherings is shared among some college students. Miller said her parents make it light and approachable for non-Jewish family members and guests. According to her, as she grew the Seder became less serious.

Now, Passover is one of the only holidays the Millers celebrate together.

“It’s one of the few days out of the year that you are actually Jewish,” she said. “People are always giggling a lot on Passover, people think its because of the Manischewitz but it’s really because it’s the one day of the year that you’re really going to take part in something that makes you a Jew.”

Others agreed that being part of a Seder reinforces the role of being a member of the Jewish community — even if it’s only a few times a year.

Jaime Porciello, a senior at New Paltz University was raised Catholic. But every year, she went with her family to her Jewish grandparent’s house to celebrate. She said it helped her connect with her mother’s history, but in recent years it has dwindled to a casual family dinner.

“My earlier memories include a full Seder, a 30-page book and reading every word,” she said. “There were yamakas, candles, and we made all of the plagues. But as the years went by it’s a tradition that the Seder gets shorter and shorter.”

Despite these changes in length, frequency and religious devotion, students agreed that Seders are a vital part of the family community.

“Nothing’s too serious because when you don’t get to be home for that long, you don’t want to have such a serious tone,” Miller said. “It’s being together that counts, that’s enough.”