Headline: Despite small Jewish community in Greencastle, DePauw celebrates Passover


President Mark McCoy upheld the tradition of hosting the annual Passover Seder at his house Monday night. More than 50 students, faculty, staff, and their families attended the Jewish banquet, catered by Bon Appétit.

Passover, a seven-day observance in the Jewish faith, centers around the story in the Torah that depicts how Jewish people were freed from slavery by the Romans in Egypt and then moved to their homeland of Israel. According to Jewish teachings, the banquet is held as a symbol of freedom and prosperity, as well as to remind people that many in the world are still not free.

“I say it every year that this year it is more important than ever that we remember that, and this year I really do feel like it is so important that we remember that we have to bring freedom to the rest of the world,” said Rabbi Mark Covitz, assistant director of spiritual life.

Covitz, along with students, faculty members and their children, led the Seder, which consisted of prayers, songs, stories and, of course, feasting. While most who attended the Seder were of the Jewish faith, anyone is welcome to participate in the Seder. Per the event’s tradition, no one who wishes to join the banquet is to be turned away.

Because the banquet is meant to teach Jewish children the story of their ancestors’ escape from Egypt, the Seder often contains elements that are meant to entertain. In this year’s event, Covitz invited all children to participate in the Afikoman. Afikoman is a game in which a broken piece of matzah, an unleavened flatbread and the staple food of the Passover diet, is hidden and whoever finds it wins a prize. He also told jokes told throughout the evening and conducted a series of magic tricks.

One of the biggest elements of Passover that spans the whole week-long holiday is the abstinence from eating leavened foods, meaning bread and grains that rise when cooked. The reason for this observance, according to Jewish tradition, is that the Jews fled Egypt in such a hurry that their bread did not have time to rise.

But matzah is impossible to find in Greencastle.

“There are some stores in Indy that do a really good job of [stocking products that are kosher for Passover.] Not many. Here in Greencastle, there aren’t any,” Covitz said. “I went to the Kroger just to see if I could pick up some matzah. It wasn’t just that they didn’t have it. They didn’t know the word I was saying… It was very surprising to me that a national grocery store, that the employees didn’t know what I was talking about.”

But, Covitz said, because of the small Jewish population in Greencastle, it makes sense that stocking kosher products would not be good business.

“Our Jewish community in Greencastle really consists of our Hillel. We serve as the synagogue for everyone else in the community,” Covitz said. “It would not be in their best interest to stock their shelves with Passover goods. I have to remember they are a business and that would be a losing proposition for them, so while it is frustrating, it’s understandable.”

Sophomore year Libby Kaiser enjoyed her first Seder experience at DePauw. She even volunteered to read a passage during the ceremonies, despite the fact that she is only half Jewish.

“My dad is Jewish and my mom is Catholic, but my mom still comes to my grandma’s house when she hosts Seder, and I really appreciate the aspect of Passover that accepts everyone and focuses not only on remembering the hardships of the Jewish people, but remembering that those hardships are happening to people in the world right now,” Kaiser said.

Even though President McCoy and his family are not Jewish, he loves the tradition of University presidents hosting the Seder to support the Jewish community at DePauw and in Greencastle.

“This is one our favorite nights of the year,” President McCoy said. “We love it for our family. It’s great to be a part of a large family and do an event like this. We had a great time.”

This is not the first time President McCoy has hosted the Seder. His family hosted the event last year, after the announcement of his presidency was made, but before he was sworn in.

“For our Jewish students and family and friends and faculty members and staff members,” President McCoy said, “It’s great that we have a home that we can all come together in and to celebrate this great, great evening.”