PASSOVER IN CHAMPAIGN-URBANA: Where to Shop and Where to Find a Local Seder
Passover is perhaps one of the most iconic holidays on the Jewish calendar. It celebrates history, tradition, and values. This year its observance starts the night of Friday, April 19 with the first seder. If it says on your calendar the first day of Passover is on April 20, that’s true. But Jewish holidays start at sundown, so hence why the first seder the night of April 19. The second seder night is on April 20.
Below we’ve put together a very short “cheat sheet” about Passover — five things you should know about this very significant holiday on the Jewish calendar –and how to celebrate in Champaign-Urbana:
- Passover is the festival of unleavened bread (which you can buy in boxes now, no need to get stuck in the desert). The eight-day festival recognizes the freeing of the Jewish people, the Israelites, from slavery in Ancient Egypt. This is the story very famously told in the Exodus in the Old Testament. Many American Jews avoid bread and grain products (leaven) to one extent or another throughout this holiday, in memory of the fact that our ancestors left Egypt in a hurry and didn’t have time to wait for their bread to rise.
- Passover is one of the MOST significant Jewish holidays in terms of importance both religiously, as well as in terms of observance. It’s one of those holidays where Jews, no matter their religiosity, will mark in some way. The Passover celebration mainly happens outside of the synagogue, and it is very rooted in family and community — and food.
- The holiday’s festive meals, celebrated on the holiday’s first two nights, are called seders (say-durs). Seder means order, and it includes a service and rituals which retell the story of the Jews fleeing slavery in Egypt. A book called The Haggadah (meaning “the telling”) explains the foods on the seder plate, recounts the highlights of the Exodus, and includes songs and prayers. The seder also includes an actual meal, one with special foods; dishes cannot contain any flour or grain (wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oats). The seder is often called the most celebrated and beloved of Jewish home rituals.
- There are many ritual items associated with Passover. Perhaps the most significant of those items is a seder plate, which features the symbolic foods eaten or displayed at the Passover seder. Those items include parsley; horseradish; a roasted egg; a roasted shank bone; lettuce; and a delicious blend of apples, nuts and sweet wine called charoset (ha-row-set).
- Passover preparations can be credited as the origination of spring cleaning. Traditionally Jews prepare for Passover by ridding their homes of all leavened bread or “chametz”. Some conduct a thorough “spring cleaning” of the house; one tradition is to “hunt for chametz” by candlelight (now flashlight in our house) on the evening before the holiday begins. That’s actually pretty fun for the kids.
Tips on celebrating and preparing for Passover right here in Champaign-Urbana
There’s so much to consider when preparing for the holiday: where to buy Passover food in Champaign-Urbana? How do I find ritual items, such as a seder plate, to put on my Passover seder table? And my favorite – where to go for a seder when you don’t want to make one? We’re here to help!
Where to buy Passover seder supplies (not food):
The best local resource for items such as seder plates, matzo plates, matzo boxes, Miriam’s cups, afikomen prizes, and other Passover stuff (a tie that looks like matzah!) is the Sinai Temple gift shop. Open Sunday mornings and Wednesday afternoons (Sinai Temple, 3140 W. Windsor Road, Champaign). A special day is the Sinai Temple Passover showcase, on Sunday, April 7 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where to buy Passover food in Champaign-Urbana:
Some locals will go to Jewish neighborhoods in the Chicago area to buy Passover goods, but thankfully, there are options in Champaign-Urbana to get the basics. Many grocery stores in Champaign-Urbana will have the bare necessities for Passover, such as kosher-for-Passover matzah, gefilte fish, and perhaps some macaroons.
But for the most comprehensive selection of Passover food in the area, head to Schnuck’s in Champaign. I’ve also found a pretty big display at Meijer in Champaign. Specifically, those stores; other area stores for those chains have small selections.
Other stores that have at least some Passover food: the County Market on Springfield just north of campus; the Meijer in Urbana; Schnucks in Savoy; and for the first time in its short history, Harvest Market has a small selection in the front of the store. I have not seen any Passover items at ALDI (I’ve only been to Savoy store).
Where to attend a seder in Champaign-Urbana (when you don’t want to make — or do — the dishes):
Although the seder is traditionally considered a “home” ritual, communal seders are a great way to experience the holiday, and Champaign-Urbana has plenty of communal seder options.
The Hillel Foundation at the University of Illinois welcomes anyone to attend its seders, although its primary audience is students. It has quite a variety of thematic seders. One that will be more family-friendly, and offered in partnership with Sinai Temple, is the community seder led by Rabbi Ari Naveh on Friday, April 19. Hillel will serve Passover lunches and non-seder dinners throughout the holiday, also for a fee. For more information on the different types of seders offered and how to register, visit the Illini Hillel website.
Similarly, Chabad at University of Illinois welcomes anyone to attend its seders, but it also caters primarily to a student audience. Chabad offers seders on both nights and dinners throughout the holiday. The first night seder at Chabad is billed as “the largest seder in Champaign-Urbana.” For more information on Passover at Chabad, visit its website.
No one will be turned away for lack of funds at either location.
Do you have questions or comments about Passover, seders, or anything else? Let us know. Contact Laura: (firstname.lastname@example.org).