For many Tufts students, the spring is a time of renewal, not only physically — with the weather getting warmer and flowers finally starting to bloom — but also spiritually. Between March and April, Tufts students observe a variety of religious holidays, including Passover, Holi, Easter and Ramadan.
At this time last year, most Tufts religious and philosophical student organizations did not do any holiday programming, as students had just recently been sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic and were still adjusting to virtual platforms such as Zoom. The story is much different this year, however, as students and staff have had a year to learn and adapt to both virtual and socially distant gatherings, and are unable to travel home to celebrate due to Tufts' travel policy.
Tufts Hillel is one group that has tapped into its creativity to create a sense of connectedness at Tufts during Passover, which began on the evening of March 27 and ended the evening of April 4.
Hannah Pearl and Jacob Brenner, who serve as Conservative Minyan chairs on Hillel Student Board, said that Hillel split those interested in participating in a Seder, the traditional meal of Passover, into groups of 10 in order to adhere to the university’s COVID-19 safety guidelines. According to Brenner, a sophomore, the groups met in rooms in 574 Boston Avenue.
“We split them up into groups of 10 people by recruiting a Seder leader and a Seder host," Pearl, a sophomore, said. "The Seder leader led the Seder, and the Seder host set the table and invited the guests. They did their own mini-Seder, and there were six groups.”
Pearl also noted that Hillel provided the necessary supplies for each micro-Seder.
“Hillel provided all the meals and the Haggadah, which are the books you use on Passover,” Pearl said.
According to Brenner, the ability to safely have these celebrations in person made the holiday feel more personal.
“Being in person brought back this idea of being able to have side conversations with other people, sort of feeling like you’re sitting around the table on Passover,” Brenner said.
Akshita Rao, president of Tufts Hindu Students Council, explained that Hindu students also found unique ways to connect and celebrate Holi. Rao first described what Holi is and how it relates to the current spring season.
“If you translate [‘Holi’], it’s basically ‘the festival of color,’ but also celebrates the marking of the first day of spring," Rao, a senior, said. "In Hindu mythology and our legendary stories, it just describes a period of time when one of our gods, Krishna, is always just really happy.”
Rao also explained how this feeling of happiness is demonstrated by throwing colored powder. Rao noted that this usually involves physical contact and a lack of social distancing, so the Hindu Students Council and the Tufts Association of South Asians worked together to co-host an adapted version of the event on March 31.
“[We put] different colors in a bag and put in a small message on it and what Holi means,” Rao said.
Hindu advisor Preeta Banerjee also hosts a monthly virtual book club to discuss readings from Amar Chitra Katha, a popular Indian comic series that retells traditional religious legends. This month's reading is centered on Krishna.
“This month’s comic book was on Krishna," Rao said. "We basically read [the comic] and we have a monthly reading group where [Banerjee] gives us a GrubHub coupon and people log on to Zoom and we just talk about it. This month was actually really fun … We were playing games … and it just kind of took me back to my childhood.”
The Catholic Community at Tufts and Protestant Student Association also used Zoom gatherings as a way to connect to celebrate Easter on April 4.
According to Amelia Hern, a senior involved with the Catholic Community at Tufts, each group had its own religious service to celebrate Easter over Zoom as well as a virtual dinner and reflection between those services.
“We just wanted to have something to celebrate Easter because, you know, every day just feels the same," Hern said. "[We did] a dinner with GrubHub vouchers, the most we can do to get people food right now. [We put] people in breakout rooms and [had] people talk about Easter traditions and what Easter means to them and new beginnings.”
Hern also expressed the importance of the collaboration between the Catholic Community at Tufts and Protestant Student Association, especially during the Easter season.
“[The Protestant Student Association] and [the Catholic Community at Tufts] get to have these [events] together, which is a really nice way to combine the community of Christianity,” Hern said.
For Hern, the unique conditions of this year made connecting with these religious communities, even via Zoom, all the more essential.
“It’s … extra depressing this year because it’s the only holiday that this is our second time missing it," she said. "So I think it’s more important than ever to do something special."
The Tufts Muslim Chaplain, Imam Abdul-Malik Merchant, expressed similar sentiments about Ramadan. He started in his position at Tufts two years ago, and has celebrated Ramadan twice during the pandemic. Ramadan will take place from April 12 to May 12 this year. Imam Merchant described why and how Ramadan is observed.
“This month is the month in which the Quran was first revealed, and it’s the month that Muslims spend fasting in order to gain God’s closeness and to be in a state of remembrance but also to learn to overcome one’s desires, weaknesses, just to learn self-control and discipline all together,” Merchant said. “So we spend the month fasting and praying, increasing in the reading of the Quran.”
Similar to all the other religious groups, the Muslim Chaplaincy has worked with the Muslim Student Association to establish a sense of community in preparation for Ramadan, as well as during the month itself.
“We already have started pre-Ramadan programming [on Zoom], sort of teaching about what Ramadan is and the mindset and the spirit that we’re trying to assume and embody going into Ramadan,” Merchant said. “And then we’re going to have weekly programming, as well, through the month as a means of checking in and providing space and community but also learning things together.”
The resilience and adaptability of the Tufts religious community is on full display this spring, a sign of hope that also coincides with the advent of vaccines, one year after a spring holiday season spent in full lockdown.