Jewish Student Association hosts Passover at Chen Hall

The Vice-Chancellor and wife Bonnie McCardell host students at Chen Hall for Passover dinner. Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20).

By Lucy Rudman
Junior Editor

Good Friday this year also coincided with the Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates the liberation of enslaved Jewish people in Egypt. The event is a dinner, focusing on thankfulness, empathy, and being with the people you love. The dinner follows the Haggadah, meaning “Narrative,” the text revealing the meaning behind the food, telling  the story of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. For the first time in the history of the Sewanee Jewish Association (SJA), the traditional Passover dinner was hosted at Chen Hall.

“After I organized the vigil for the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Vice-Chancellor and I went and spoke about Jewish life at Sewanee,” Max Saltman (C’21), a member of the Sewanee Jewish Association explained. “He offered to host a seder at Chen Hall for Jewish students, and over the next semester, the Vice-Chancellor, Bonnie McCardell, Dana Moss (the head chef of Sewanee Catering), and Emily [Rowcliffe (C’19)] and I all worked on making it happen.”

And happen it did.

With around 20 guests in attendance, the dinner was a blend of Jewish and not. Both the Vice-Chancellor John McCardell and his wife, Bonnie, and the Chancellor Robert Skirving and his wife, Sandy, were in attendance. SJA president Emily Rowcliffe and Saltman led the seder, reading from the Haggadah and answering questions when they arose.

The dinner is centered around community, but food is intimately tied to this retelling. As it says in the Haggadah, each food represents a different feeling or experience; the first cup of wine is dedicated “To Spring,” with parsley representing “rebirth,” dipped into salt water representing the “tears of enslavement.” As Saltman put it during dinner: “I like Passover because I like metaphors, and this is a delicious one.”

Catered by Sewanee Catering, the dishes in question were traditionally Jewish dishes, including Matzah ball soup and lamb, all pre-arranged by Saltman and Moss to be kosher for Passover. While structured, the dinner also presented time for conversation and getting to know the people seated at your table.

Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20).

“I am so glad that I was able to participate in Passover,” Lindsay Fox (C’20) said, “I was really nervous but the Seder felt familiar… likely because the people who I shared it with were so open and welcoming.”

Another notable guest in attendance was Melissa Hartley, the associate Chaplain of All Saints’. Both Hartley and the Vice-Chancellor expressed a desire to continue the partnership in the future, as did the guests in attendance. Throughout the night, this unity and inclusion was a wish expressed by Rowcliffe.

“I would love to experience and participate in another Passover celebration,” Fox said, “and other Jewish traditions.”

Ultimately, though, the divide between an Episcopal school and Jewish tradition isn’t as sharp as it appears.

“A lot of people don’t know this,” Saltman said, “but our school’s motto, Ecce Quam Bonum, actually comes from a Hebrew phrase: Hinei Ma Tov. Seeing the Vice-Chancellor and Chancellor Skirving wearing yarmulkes, with both Jewish and Gentile students sitting around the seder table, enjoying the Passover meal, made me think of that psalm. Hinei ma tov; behold how good!”