Forget mock trial. How about a mock seder?
This March, Jewish students and alumni at St. Thomas University School of Law enjoyed a mock seder courtesy of Southern NCSY. More than 30 Jewish students, alumni and guests gathered for a three-hour seder in the weeks before Passover, despite being in the midst of finals. With the help of Rabbi Ben Gonsher, Southern NCSY’s regional director of institutional advancement, and Josh Geller, Southern NCSY director of alumni, participants took a guided tour through Jewish history and discussed the symbolism of matzah and the seder plate as well as the meaning of Yitzat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt. Law students also sang the traditional songs of the seder and studied excerpts from Southern NCSY’s edition of the Vilna Gaon’s Hagaddah.
NCSY is the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union.
Adam Geller, an alumnus of St. Thomas University School of Law and a Southern NCSY donor, brought the two organizations together.
“One of my favorite seders is the Annual St. Thomas University Jewish Law Students’ Association Seder,” Geller shared. “And I love the work NCSY does for local Jewish teens. Being able to bring together two of my passions is a real Passover blessing!”
Rabbi Gonsher said the event had three goals: to introduce the beauty of a Jewish tradition to those who may never have enjoyed a seder; to build a community among Jewish students at St. Thomas University and to help create a semblance of active Jewish life for Southern NCSY alumni and friends on campus. St. Thomas University is a common destination for many local Jewish teenagers.
“NCSY is not only about engaging our teens while they are in high school,” explained Rabbi Gonsher. “It’s about ensuring they transition well into the next stage of their lives and that they remain actively involved in Jewish pursuits through and beyond their college experiences. NCSY is about changing lives.”
Todd Cohn, executive director of Southern NCSY, said that he’s fielded several requests from the community to lead programming during the chagim, holidays.
“Our rabbis are recognized for their passion, erudition and captivating teaching styles and are being called upon more and more by the community to expand beyond the teen engagement role,” said Cohn. “Because they are so talented with teens, alumni, parents and donors are asking them to share their expertise throughout all stages of life.”
Ulyana Altbregen, president of the Student Bar Association and the Jewish Law Students Association was thrilled to have NCSY Regional Director Rabbi Gonsher lead the seder.
“Everyone had amazing things to say afterwards and we hope that we have made a good enough impression on them that they come back again in future years.” Altbregen said, adding that community involvement is a core principle at St. Thomas University and working with NCSY is an embodiment of that. “I would be glad to gather the students to help give back to your community in some way. At St. Thomas, we are huge advocates of public service.”
Rabbi Micah Greenland, international director of NCSY, said that Passover was an especially important time to reach out to unaffiliated Jewish neighbors.
“Our sages teach us that the majority of Jews weren’t interested in leaving Egypt,” he explained. “This is the time to rectify that; this is the time to reach out to those in need. NCSY’s mission is perfectly embodied in our Hagaddah: all those who are hungry, come and eat.”