A Night Different From Others as Pro-Palestinian Protests Break for Seder

On the first night of Passover, the singsong of the Four Questions echoed from Jewish homes and gatherings around the world, including from unlikely, contested spaces: the center of pro-Palestinian protests at Columbia and other universities where demonstrations are taking place.

As evening fell over Columbia’s tent encampment on Monday, about 100 students and faculty gathered in a circle around a blue tarp heaped with boxes of matzo and food they had prepared in a kosher kitchen. Some students wore kaffiyehs, the traditional Palestinian scarf, while others wore Jewish skullcaps. They distributed handmade Haggadahs — prayer books for the Passover holiday — and read prayers in Hebrew, keeping to the traditional order.

But there were also there were changes and additions, like a watermelon on the Seder plate to represent the flag of Palestine. There were repeated references to the suffering of the Palestinian people and the need to ensure their liberation. There was grape juice instead of wine to respect the alcohol-free encampment, which was started last Wednesday and, despite a police crackdown last week, was stretching into its sixth day.

The question asked each year — Why is this night different from all other nights?— echoed with new meaning.

At other pro-Palestinian encampments and protests that have cropped up this week, similar scenes played out. Some protest organizers and participants are anti-Zionist Jewish students, and at Columbia, roughly 15 of the students who have been suspended for their involvement in the encampment are Jewish, organizers said.

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