PASSOVER IN CHAMPAIGN-URBANA: Where to Shop and Where to Find a Seder … even in the time of Covid-19
This will be our second Passover in the age of COVID-19. Hopefully, thanks to vaccines and testing, and perhaps more knowledge about how COVID-19 spreads, we will be able to celebrate in a more “typical” way. Still, those 30-person seder dinners are not currently in the cards. We’ll adapt; as Jews, adapting is a part of our tradition.
Passover is perhaps one of the most iconic holidays on the Jewish calendar. It celebrates history, tradition, and values. This year Passover starts the night of Saturday, March 27, with the first seder (dinner). If it says on your calendar the first day of Passover is on Sunday, March 28 — that’s technically correct. But Jewish holidays start at sundown the night before the first day, hence why the first seder the night of March 27. The second seder night is celebrated on Sunday, March 28.
Passover jokes are typically corny. Last year the jokes were EPIC, as we faced a real life plague and quarantine. “So does this mean we aren’t letting Elijah in for Passover?” (The answer last year- stay six feet away. This year’s answer: well, that depends. Did he get the vaccine yet? I hear he was in category 1-b.)
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.
- Traditional observance includes removing all leaven from your home.
- Passover is one of the MOST significant Jewish holidays in terms of importance both religiously, as well as in terms of observance.
- Let’s face it, Jews celebrate A LOT of holidays. (We like to party.)
- Passover one of the main 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.” (We just put ours in the garage or the basement; some “sell” it. Everyone does this differently.)
- 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.
- Another ritual ceremony: the burning of the chametz. We typically burn a bit of bread in the fireplace.
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! Of course, this year our answers are a bit different than a typical year.
Where to buy Passover seder supplies:
Typically, we send people to the Sinai Temple Passover Showcase to buy items; unfortunately that has been cancelled again. Check online and find resources for seder plates and other essential items. We especially like Modern Tribe for interesting supplies.
Where to buy Passover food in Champaign-Urbana:
Some locals might 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 macaroons (not to be confused with macarons).
The most comprehensive selection of Passover food in the area is typically at Schnuck’s in Champaign, although many have found it somewhat disappointing this year. Meijer in Champaign in years past has had a decent selection.
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 Harvest Market. With Costco being new on the scene and carrying other Kosher food, we are hoping they might have some. We have not seen any Passover items at ALDI (I’ve only been to the Savoy store).
Where to attend a seder or get a seder to go in Champaign-Urbana:
Most years, communal seders happen in multiple Champaign locations. However, this year will be different once again; seating may be limited. In addition, some vendors are offering Passover “to-go” meals. We’ll add more info here as we see it.
Sinai Temple Passover events
Champaign’s Sinai Temple will have multiple virtual options for community seder experiences for people in the Champaign-Urbana area. If you would like more information, contact Rabbi Alan Cook.
In-Person Seders, Seders to Go, Passover Meals and more at Illini Hillel’s Cohen Center:
There will be in-person seders (limited seating) at Illini Hillel this year. In addition, students will be able to get a “seder in a box” to-go seder. Weekday Passover meals will be available for a fee (and they are really delicious, we speak from experience). No one will be turned away from seders or meals due to inability to pay. Meals can be booked online.
Does your family celebrate Easter? Here’s all about Easter Egg Hunts and where to see the Bunny.
Do you have questions or comments about Passover, seders, or anything else? Let us know. Contact Laura (firstname.lastname@example.org).