Updated: April 15, 2019 at 7:10 p.m.
GW Hillel will offer free lunches to students observing Passover this month.
For the first time, the organization will prepare free lunch in its townhouse on 21st and F streets April 21 to 27 for students celebrating Passover, an eight-day-long Jewish holiday. Students said the initiative will assuage student concerns about the cost and availability of kosher meals, making the holiday more accessible for students.
“People are very busy, people are struggling with their GWorld or just in general, and food brings people together,” Dan Epstein, a rabbi and the senior Jewish educator for Hillel, said. “That’s a big idea in Judaism, so we try to create community.”
He said Hillel has charged $13 for each lunch in the past and served between 10 and 20 students, faculty and staff members annually. Epstein said eliminating the cost of Passover meals this year will alleviate stress about paying for Passover meals, which could include matzah, salad and coleslaw.
He added that kosher food items cannot come in contact with bread products during Passover, and plates and silverware must be reserved for Passover or cleaned thoroughly. He said individuals observing the holiday must also clean their homes and buy only kosher food, making preparation for the holiday difficult for students who are on a budget or busy with school.
“On the holidays, even if it’s just for this meal, hopefully that will give people a chance to focus and relax,” Epstein said.
Sophomore Zachary Bernstein, the holiday coordinator for Hillel, said switching to free Passover lunches will allow more students to participate in the celebration by saving students the cost of some kosher meals. Students will be required to pay for Passover dinners, which cost $13 per meal.
“Even still paying for the dinners, this makes Passover a lot easier financially, so I’m very grateful for the change,” he said.
Bernstein said preparing Passover meals can often force students to purchase costly kosher ingredients and cleaning products to remove all traces of bread from the kitchen.
“It’s very difficult for students who want to observe traditionally to prepare meals for themselves, and it can be very expensive to find kosher Passover options, so I think everything that Hillel’s doing to make that easier and more feasible is just absolutely fantastic,” Bernstein said.
Bernstein said offering free lunch during Passover will also promote community because the meals will encourage students to eat together at the townhouse.
Adena Kirstein, the executive director of Hillel, said she hopes removing the cost of Passover lunches will make the meal “accessible” to more students and draw in more people to celebrate.
“Food is obviously an easy way to gather in a community – it’s an easy access point to Jewish identity,” Kirstein said. “It’s how a lot of people – when they think about all their positive Jewish memories – a lot of the time it’s not sitting in a synagogue, it’s sitting around the table with family and friends.”
She added that offering free meals will engage students who would otherwise opt out of celebrating the holiday because of expensive kosher food.
“We want you to think critically about your identity while you are in college, to think about how you are going to take all this rich tradition and all the rich things you have learned over the years, the traditions of your family, and find a relevant new way to be a Jewish adult,” she said. “We want to give students the tools they need to live their own Jewish lives.”
Nia Lartey and Lia DeGroot contributed reporting.
This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that GW Hillel will begin offering free Passover lunches on April 19. The organization will start offering lunches on April 21. We regret this error.