After two years of lonely seders, Pittsburghers ready to open their homes
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PassoverNice to see you again

After two years of lonely seders, Pittsburghers ready to open their homes

Sitting together is a reminder that the seder isn't a performance, 'it's something you do.'

Photo taken by Jorge Novominsky for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism via Flickr
Photo taken by Jorge Novominsky for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism via Flickr

For more than 1,000 years, the Haggadah has proclaimed that all who are hungry should come and eat.

This Passover, Pittsburghers are taking the imperative to heart.

Mt. Lebanon resident Beth Schwartz said that after two years of small seders she’s finally ready to welcome guests.

“COVID is probably not going anywhere, so even though there is some fear that there may be a new surge, at some point we need to get back together with people,” Schwartz said.

“This seems to be a good time to do it.”

Schwartz remains mindful of COVID mitigation strategies. She continues masking in certain public settings, but said that with case counts dropping, she and her husband have resumed pre-pandemic activities such as dining at restaurants.

Still, they aren’t ready to “throw caution to the wind,” so as a lead-up to the holiday, they are asking guests to take rapid COVID tests, Schwartz said.

Assuming everyone receives negative results, Schwartz anticipates hosting about 12 people.

Squirrel Hill resident Dee Selekman also plans to host about 12 people, although that is far fewer than the total she welcomed pre-pandemic.

“We used to host for 30 people,” Selekman said. “We’re not there yet.”

One reason for this year’s smaller number of guests is that the party room in her building limits gatherings to 20 people. Another reason, Selekman said, is that some friends and family are reluctant to travel due to COVID concerns and are attending seders elsewhere.

A Yemenite family celebrates Passover in Tel Aviv in 1946. Photo by Zoltan Kluger courtesy of Government Press Office via Flickr

Regardless of the number of guests, Passover remains Selekman’s favorite holiday. She recalled that when she was a child, it was a time when her grandfather — who at the age of 80 moved to Israel — would return to the states.

Passover was always special because if anyone in the family wanted to see him they “had to be in Pittsburgh,” Selekman said.

Now a grandmother herself, Selekman is eager to welcome her brood for an unmasked holiday celebration. Her daughter’s family lives in Pittsburgh, but her son’s family is in Maryland. This Passover will be the first time in two years that the Selekman crew will celebrate in person together — and this bubbie can’t wait.

“I love cooking. I love having them around,” Selekman said of her family. “It’s my greatest pleasure.”

Squirrel Hill resident Alan Lesgold is also excited about having a larger group around his table.

The past two years were pretty sparse, he said. “We’re ready to welcome a few additional people.”

Pandemic seders at the Lesgold home included a “large television at the end of the table,” enabling the Lesgolds to celebrate virtually with their two sons and daughters-in-law.

This year, Lesgold — who is participating in a Rodef Shalom Congregation program pairing hosts and guests — anticipates having 8-10 people around his table.

He is delighted to welcome the group.

Passover is a communal experience,” he said. It’s through the company of others that holiday celebrants can mark their freedom, offer thanks and “reflect that not everyone else enjoys that freedom,” he said.

That’s hard to do alone, he said, adding that the best Passover songs require multiple voices.

“‘Chad Gadya’ and ‘Dayenu’ are group activities,” Lesgold said. “Those experiences we remember from past seders aren’t about one person; they’re about a group of people celebrating together. However you think about religion, however you think about who we are and relate to God, it’s a communal experience, and certainly most faiths have figured that out over time — that’s why we gather for these kinds of events.”

Part of what Lesgold enjoys about the seder is that “it isn’t a performance you watch, it’s something you do,” he said.

Lesgold is counting down the days until Passover starts. With April 15 (and the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan) approaching, he noted that everyone will make calculations about welcoming guests or entering someone else’s home.

Lesgold’s family is vaccinated and boosted, he said, and although there’s always risk, he’s ready to celebrate Passover with family and friends nearby.

“To be fair,” Lesgold added, “we have a very long dining room table.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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