At Princeton, Passover is a big event. Many students, Jewish and non-Jewish, celebrate the holiday at one of many incredible seders. From the Center for Jewish Life to the eating clubs, from the home of President Eisgruber to Chabad, seders are happening all over campus. I had the wonderful opportunity to go behind the scenes of Chabad’s seder. Rabbi Eitan and Gitty Webb were so kind as to give me a sneak peak of the seder setup and the food preparation, as well as a rundown of some of the traditional Jewish customs.
The Chabad House in Princeton is run by an extremely welcoming community. Chabad serves to educate campus about Judaism and offer opportunities for all campus members to participate in Jewish services, learning, meals, and other traditions. Chabad houses exist in various communities all across the globe, including college campuses. At Chabad, there are two kitchens in order to keep all of the food kosher: a meat kitchen and a dairy kitchen.
On Passover, all Jewish people are forbidden from eating “Chametz”, or anything that contains wheat, rye, oats, barley, and spelt. The only exception is, of course, matzah! Matzah is only allowed to rise for 18 minutes, and anything else that rises, “or leavens” for longer is off limits. For Sephardic Jews, this is where the restrictions end. However, the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition also forbids any “Kitniyot” from being eaten; this category includes items such as rice, millet, corn, lentils, peas, and more.
In order to prepare the seder meal in a Chametz-free environment, Gitty made the meat kitchen kosher for Passover by covering all of the kitchen appliances with tinfoil. She even has an insert for the sink. Anything that counts as “Chametz” has to be covered, because all Chametz products have to remain out of sight for the whole week. There is also a custom to “sell” the Chametz to someone for the week, since the tradition goes that one cannot own the forbidden food during the holiday.
On each table there were seder plates, Passover prayer books, and kosher wine (for those who were able to drink!). And as the endless lines of plates on each table indicated, Gitty cooks for a lot of people. However, the quantity does not mean that the quality is compromised–no matter the occasion, Gitty Webb never fails to cook an incredible meal. Every week Rabbi Webb and Gitty host Shabbat dinners at their home. On this particular holiday, they host seders on the first and second night of Passover. In addition, Gitty catered seders at four eating clubs and Princeton’s Graduate College. This means that over the course of two nights, Gitty’s meals were enjoyed by at least 250 people!
The food at seder was supreme. The meal started off with homemade butternut squash soup and a delicious salad with avocado and grape tomatoes. As Princeton students know, avocado is a rarity on campus, so this was a treat. The main course consisted of an incredibly juicy brisket and fluffy potato kugel, in addition to beet and red onion salad. Of course, there was plenty of homemade matzah to go around, even gluten-free matzah for people like me. For dessert we enjoyed some wonderful kosher-for-Passover chocolate cake. Overall, the Chabad seder was fantastic. I already cannot wait for next year’s seder!