This weekend marked the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover, a holiday that celebrates the Jewish people’s liberation from Egyptian slavery and the beginning of their journey through the desert before receiving the Torah and passing into Holy Land.
While most Jewish holidays commemorate the historical pattern of, “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat,” there are certainly some more meaningful implications of Passover. As the academic year comes to a close this week, USC students, too, will soon celebrate our three-month liberation from school.
This season is also a time to remember what it feels like to be the new kids on the block, the “strangers in a new land,” as the religious text puts it. Judaism teaches us to treat “the stranger who sojourns with you” as “a native from among you” and to “love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
The values of Passover serve as a guide for modern day inclusion. Over the last few weeks, numerous students from across the country made their way to USC to tour and ultimately make the decision about whether they want to enroll here. Many of them will pay their deposits and accept their spot in the Trojan Family in the coming days, and it is our responsibility to welcome the newcomers to USC.
Over the eight days of Passover, observant Jews refrain from eating leavened bread. Instead, Jews eat matzah, bread that has not yet risen. While the surface level reasoning for this custom is to remember how our ancestors did not have time to wait for their bread to rise as they fled Egypt, there are several deeper meanings that are applicable today, many millennia later.
One explanation is that the risen, inflated bread represents the ego, while the matzah represents humbleness. The unleavened bread of Passover teaches us not to inflate our egos and to instead try humbling ourselves for a few days. In that sense, this Passover really is “crunch time,” both because of the matzah, but perhaps even more so because of final exam season. In that spirit, students shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help during the home stretch of the semester and to rely on friends during study days and finals week.
Because of the Jewish obligation not to eat wheat for eight days, I cleansed my dorm of all wheat snacks last week. Not wanting to waste my leftover baklava, I decided to bring the box to a group meeting. When I offered the treats to someone and explained why I had to get rid of it, she told me she had what she called the “opposite” religious problem: She couldn’t accept the sugary snack because of the Christian Lent fast, which ended on Easter Sunday.
To that end, both Easter and Passover mark new beginnings represented through food. As a metaphor for college, everyone is off to a new beginning once this week of classes ends. Some students will actually graduate through a “commencement” ceremony, a word whose etymology harkens back to the idea of a “new beginning.”
So no matter your background or religion, everyone can raise a glass to new beginnings this week.
Shauli Bar-On is a sophomore writing about sociopolitical issues. His column, “The Bar-On Brief,” ran every other Tuesday.