If you were on the Vanderbilt University campus during Passover and couldn’t find a seder – well, you weren’t looking very hard. In all there were 20 seders large and small that drew more than 1,000 people.
Vanderbilt Hillel organized 14 Passover meals in the university’s Schulman Center for Jewish Life and co-sponsored four others elsewhere on the campus.
There were first night seders and second night seders. Seders for undergraduates and seders for graduate students. And there were seders with special themes – a “Meme Seder” that connected funny, trending internet memes to the Passover story, for example, and a “Sips and Strokes Seder” during which students created a Passover-inspired painting as they read the haggadah. Oh, and there was a “Good Jewish Boy Seder” that highlighted famous Jews in Hollywood.
In all, the Hillel-sponsored seders drew almost 700 people, including 150 graduate students as well as eight students from Belmont University and six from Middle Tennessee State University, said Ari Dubin, Vanderbilt Hillel’s executive director. Nine fraternities and sororities participated in the seders, he said.
Meanwhile, Chabad of Vanderbilt held its second Seder on the Lawn – an interactive first-night-of-Passover meal under a huge tent on Alumni Lawn that drew 300 people, said Rabbi Shlomo Rothstein. A family-style second-night seder at the Chabad house on West End Avenue drew about 60 people, he said.
All the Hillel seders were led by students, except for those for graduate students, which were led by Max Ryabinin, the Jewish Agency for Israel Fellow at Hillel, and Rob Friedman, a Vanderbilt alumnus who is now a third-year rabbinic student at Hebrew Union College.
“I take tremendous pride in the raw numbers, but as we say in Hillel, we strive for both breadth and depth,” Dubin said. “Our staff worked closely with so many seder leaders to create unique Passover experiences that combined our students’ family traditions with new and innovative concepts. Several seders went so far as to create their very own haggadot.”
In an email letter to Harriet Schiftan, associate executive director of the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, Dubin said the success of Hillel’s Passover events “was made possible by the Federation’s support of our seders, without which we would have been unable to afford the undertaking.”
Aside from helping fund the seders, Dubin said the Federation also subsidizes the position of two staff members who helped students organize the them: Ryabinin and innovation specialist Zoe Kress. •