A taste of home at Zachs Hillel House first Seder

Rabbi Aaron Rosenberg leads the first Seder at Zachs Hillel House, which opened in January. Photo by Grace Griffin '14.
Rabbi Aaron Rosenberg leads the first Seder at Zachs Hillel House, which opened in January. Photo by Grace Griffin '14.

When home is 3,000 miles away, returning mid-semester to attend a family Passover Seder is nearly impossible. Thankfully for Shira Goldsmith ’15, Connecticut College’s new Zachs Hillel House helped fill the void in a tremendous way.

“I’m used to having a Seder with family,” said Goldsmith, a native of Oakland, Calif. “I’ve done that my whole life, and while it’s weird not being home, it’s so great to have it here.”

Goldsmith was one of approximately 50 people to attend the first Seder at Zachs Hillel House on April 14. The first Seder marked a milestone for the House, which opened in January in large part through a $1 million gift from philanthropist Henry Zachs and his family.  

In previous years, Jewish students gathered at different facilities throughout campus to celebrate Passover, an important holiday commemorating the Israelites escaping bondage in Egypt. Most of this year’s attendees were students, with some invited guests from the Jewish War Veterans and the Coast Guard Academy also present.

Rabbi Aaron Rosenberg, of the reform synagogue Temple Emanu-El in Waterford, led the festivities. Donning a yarmulke patterned as matzo, he blended humor into the evening and called upon the attendees to celebrate.

While all Seders include the retelling of the story and the symbolism of the food, wine and customs, traditions vary from family to family. Alexandra Capelin ’15 of Scarsdale, N.Y., said she missed being with family, but was happy to celebrate on campus.

“It’s really nice being able to connect with the Jewish community here,” Capelin said. “It’s like a synagogue away from home.”

Hillel Adviser Rachel Sheriff said that for students who wouldn’t be spending Passover with parents or grandparents, Hillel wanted a replicate the experience as much as possible. Staff members served a kosher feast catered by the Crown Market of West Hartford, complete with favorites like matzo ball soup and beef brisket.

“It doesn’t get much more authentic than this,” Sheriff said.

Most events to take place at the Hillel House will be open to people of all faiths. Board Co-President Adam Rosenberg said he hopes that the building becomes a campus hub for Jews and non-Jews alike to come together.

On Friday, April 25, Hillel is hosting a catered Shabbat dinner followed by a lecture by philosophy professor Larry Vogel on Hannah Arendt’s reporting of the Adolph Eichmann trial. During her coverage of his 1961 trial, Arendt coined the phrase “banality of evil” to describe Eichmann, one of the chief perpetrators of the Holocaust. The lecture begins at 6:15 p.m. and is open to all students, faculty and staff. Those wishing to attend should contact Laurie McGrath by email at lamcg@conncoll.edu.

On Sunday, April 27, Zachs and his family will be at the House for a dedication and reception, joined by College administrators, donors, parents, faculty and Hillel's executive board. 

April 18, 2014