Chabad of Squirrel Hill will celebrate Pesach this year with an event signaling, perhaps, that the end of COVID-19 isolation is not as far away as expected: an in-person, community seder.
The pandemic caused last year’s community seder to be canceled, but Rabbi Yisroel Altein said the time is ripe for Chabad of Squirrel Hill to start dipping its toe into the in-person waters. He gauged community interest in the event and was pleased to schedule it, he said.
For those who cannot or choose not to attend, Chabad has alternatives, including free “seder kits” for those celebrating in their homes.
Quantity for the in-person seder remains an issue this year. The event will not convene the 150 or more people it does typically; Chabad is capping the March 27, 2021, seder at 50 participants. Quality, however, is a different matter, Altein stressed.
“In terms of quality, the demand is high,” he told the Chronicle. “The need for it? For people who have been alone for a year? We determined there is a need.”
People at the indoor event, held at the Chabad of Squirrel Hill building on Forbes Avenue, will be seated in “family pods,” meaning they will only be partially unmasked and within close distance of those in their household, Altein said. Everyone else will remain socially distanced and follow all state and county health guidelines.
Religious gatherings are exempt from attendance restrictions placed on other gatherings, such as those at restaurants, according to Pennsylvania’s mitigation, enforcement and immunity orders, which were posted online March 3. When not eating, though, people at the seder will need to remain masked.
“This way, we’ll be able to keep people safe and distanced but, at the same time, we’ll be in the same room,” he said. “We’ll have the same seder. We’ll have the same experience. And, hopefully, we’ll have the same joy.”
The first night seder starts at 8:30 p.m. on March 27. Those interested in registering can sign up through March 24 at chabadpgh.com/seder.
Dorit Sasson has been attending Chabad of Squirrel Hill seders for some 15 years, since she moved from Israel to Pittsburgh.
“When we lived in Israel, we’d participate in kibbutz seders and those were very, very communal,” said Sasson, who lives in Squirrel Hill. “Going to the Chabad seders was a way to help get back what we gave up when leaving Israel, but it also has a spiritual layer.”
Both Sasson and her husband are vaccinated against COVID-19; the decision to attend this year’s seder and return to some form of seasonal normalcy was not difficult for them.
“There are safety guidelines in place, there are standards,” she told the Chronicle. “That made the decision-making much, much easier.”
Yafa Schnadower isn’t yet vaccinated against COVID-19 and still plans to attend the March 27 seder in Squirrel Hill. Though her husband, who is pursuing his doctorate at Carnegie Mellon University, is getting his second COVID-19 vaccine dose the day of the seder, she said she is not worried about attending the in-person event.
“The rabbi told us it’s going to be a small seder with lots of social distancing,” Schnadower said. “That helped us decide to go.”
Sasson echoed that.
“[Altein] is going to hold the community’s best interests,” she said. “The seder should not be a lonely experience.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.