Jewish students claim the school could provide more during Passover

BY MICHALA SAWYER ’17

Passover, known as Pesach in Hebrew, is an eight-day celebration of the freedom from slavery of the Israelites in Egypt. It is observed by keeping kosher, avoiding anything leavened and participating in the seder meals, which include four cups of wine, matzah, bitter herbs and retelling the Exodus narrative. Eating on campus can potentially be difficult for Jewish students observing Passover. To avoid leaven, or chametz in Hebrew, students have to avoid pasta, bread, cake, cookies, cereal, pizza and most alcoholic beverages, which make up some essential meals for college students.

Some students continue to eat at dining halls and just consume more salads than usual, or order burgers from Blanch without the bun. Other students take advantage of the meals the Eliot House hosts that are both kosher and without leaven. The kitchen manager there, John Higgins, makes the meals himself, as he does for other religious and ethnic student groups on campus. 

It’s relatively easy for Alison Ochs ’17, to keep kosher and avoid leaven during Passover because she has access to the Eliot House as a student worker. “If I didn’t have access, it would be much harder. Eliot House tries to provide meals, but can only be certain to have something during regular meal times so if you come at another time it depends on if anyone’s around to let you into the kitchen. During the day is usually fine, but late at night it mostly depends on if a student worker happens to be studying there. I get all my food at Eliot House,” said Ochs. 

Ochs, who is also a member of the Jewish Student Union, wishes that Mount Holyoke gave more support to its Jewish students. Ochs suggests, “it would be nice for MHC to have wheatless meals during Passover — they don’t have to change the cooking gear, just offer options for the less strict people. Or offering something like matzah pizza in Blanchard would be pretty easy to do. Just make sure there’s food like stir-fry and such available as options.” 

The Jewish Student Union attempts to fill in gaps left by the school. Adele Stock ’19, co-chair of the JSU, said, “JSU puts on two seders, one student led and one led by our Chaplin, Amelia.” In addition to offering Passover seders and meals, Ochs said, “we clean the Eliot House kitchen and maintain it during Passover. We set up and clean up meals and organize other events like the Prince of Egypt showing. While John Higgins, the Eliot House kitchen manager, does most of the actual cooking, we do almost everything else.” 

Danielle Arshinoff ’17 said that while she is glad JSU offers seders and meals during Passover, “food availability becomes hard when most of your friends are not participating in the holiday or are not Jewish. This usually means that I would join my friends in the dining halls which sometimes have matzah. At a dining hall most meats and vegetables involve some type of bread or yeast. For me this means that a meal consists of steamed vegetables, fruit [and] tea with the rarely offered non breaded meat or hummus.” 

Arshinoff also said the school could do more for their Jewish students on campus, for example, “I think it would be nice to have a larger variety of vegetables in the dining halls during Passover. Non-breaded meats would be greatly appreciated too, but I understand [that] this is not always easy. It would be amazing if Uncommon Grounds could offer macaroons during Passover like Thirsty Mind does.” Offering macaroons during M&Cs or as a dessert in the dining halls is also a potential idea students mentioned. 

Stock agrees that it’s not easy to keep kosher on campus during Passover, especially since “some dining halls don’t even have matzah ... Mount Holyoke could improve kosher meals by actually offering them, as opposed to leaving it up to the students to get their own food. Making Wilder kosher for Passover would be a good start.” 

With the opening of the new Blanchard Community Center, informally known as SuperBlanch, Arshinoff said, “hopefully with the vegan/vegetarian section of SuperBlanch there may be an increase in kosher for Passover options.” Ochs is more reserved in her answer to how SuperBlanch will affect kosher students and Passover meals. She adds, “it could go either way. As long as decent gluten-free options are available, those are usually kosher for Passover for the less observant, but if menus are more set and less varied it could be harder to find anything.” 

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