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This Year in Jerusalem: Passover at BYU’s Jerusalem Center

11:40 am Thursday, April 14, 2011
by christa woodall


Students and guests of BYU's Jerusalem Center enjoy a Passover Seder led by Hebrew teacher Ophir Yarden (standing) in October 2010.


"Next year in Jerusalem."

Each Passover Seder ends with this traditional phrase, but 82 BYU students won't have to wait until next year. The students, who are studying at BYU's Jerusalem Center, recently observed Pesach before departing for their homes in the United States.

With Passover on the horizon, I emailed Joseph Bentley, director of hosting and humanitarian outreach for BYU's Jerusalem Center, to ask what's planned for the students to experience this unique opportunity of being in the Holy Land near both Passover and Easter. Bentley said that all students who study at the Center get the opportunity to participate in a traditional Seder, regardless of the calendar (new groups come each April, August and January). However, the experience takes on special meaning for those students whose time in Jerusalem ends in April, thereby enjoying the Seder close to its season.

Perched on Mount Scopus overlooking the Mount of Olives and the Kidron Valley, BYU's Jerusalem Center becomes home to students from one of three BYU institutions (in Utah, Idaho and Hawaii) who spend a semester traveling throughout Israel and to Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and more. This semester's students will head home next week, with a new group of 82 coming the following week.

"For most students, the Seder is a new and unfamiliar experience," Bentley said - "but it is a great highlight of each term."

During the Seder, Ophir Yarden, the Center's Hebrew instructor, goes through the ancient text of the Haggadah, narrating the Jews' liberation from Egypt through portions of the Talmud and special blessings, rituals and songs. Yarden explains each step of the rite as the students partake of matzoh, maror, charoses and so forth, with grape juice replacing the wine (since Latter-day Saints don't drink alcohol). Attendees then participate in a feast, followed by a blessing and, of course, the afikomen for the children in attendance.

During this sacred season, the students also observe Easter by participating in a Passover meal akin to what Jesus Christ would have experienced at the Last Supper. The Jerusalem Center's main auditorium is set up in the Roman triclinium style of Christ's era, with cushions and low tables. After an evening discussing the significance of each element of the event, the lights are dimmed, and all participants get to meditate silently, pondering the experience while looking over the Holy City of Jerusalem, with its lights twinkling as night sets in.

"The whole effect is truly sublime," Bentley said.

Reading of the experiences Bentley's students get to enjoy during their time in Israel makes me wish I could revisit my college days and spend a semester at the Jerusalem Center. I, too, hope for "Next year in Jerusalem."

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Tags: BYU, Jerusalem, BYU Jerusalem Center, Bentley, Seder, Passover, Pesach, Easter, Haggadah, Israel, Mormon, Latter-day Saint

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