Judith Flacks may have been thousands of miles away from her family in London but she still had the opportunity to celebrate the beginning of Passover with her Penn State family.
On Monday night, about 300 students gathered in the basement of the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center to partake in the Seder -- a Jewish ritual feast that marks the beginning of the holiday of Passover.
"I've never been to a service this big before," said Flacks (junior-American studies and English), who was eating her Seder meal away from home for the first time. "It's kind of nice to see so many students at college who still want to do it, even though they're not being forced to."
The Seder is a ritual in which many generations of family and friends gather together to eat, pray and celebrate the story in Exodus of the Israelites journey out of Egypt.
This year's ceremony, sponsored by Penn State Hillel, was attended by more students than any other year, said Michal Berns, President of Penn State Hillel.
"We're trying to create our own family tradition," Berns (junior-media studies) said. "Lots of students are disappointed that they couldn't make it home for Seder."
Matzah, charoses, parsley, wine, and other ritualistic parts of the Seder meal lined each of the nine tables in the Pasquerilla basement. The different food items on the Seder Plate are each symbolic reminders of the suffering of the Hebrew slaves.
Co-religious chair of Hillel, Samuel Werner (sophomore-engineering science) began the celebration with Hebrew readings and prayers, as students followed along in their Haggadah, a Jewish religious text that sets the order for the Seder.
After the readings, students flocked to the Kosher meal of matzah ball soup, salad, broccoli, and chicken.
For the next eight days, many Jewish students will be giving up bread products and going Kosher for Passover.
For Beth Mormer, who grew up in a predominantly Jewish area, it will be more difficult to keep up with the diet while at Penn State.
"At home everyone's doing it," Mormer (freshman-division of undergraduate studies) said. "It'll be a lot easier to slip up at school."
Penn State has taken steps to ensure Jewish students can find Kosher items while on campus. For the third year in a row, the university has offered full Kosher meals for Passover in Waring Commons, said Aaron Kaufman, the executive director of Hillel.
"It's really great that Penn State makes that possible," Kaufman said. "We're hopeful that the program will be long term."
The students ate their Kosher meal -- which was prepared entirely by about a dozen students in five days -- with laughter and in good spirits.
"I've always grown up with Seders in my house -- but I'm excited to be here with my friends and have a different experience," said Jen Recant (sophomore-elementary education).
They may have not been home, but the in the company of the Penn State Jewish community, students felt just as welcome.