Passover 2022 brings the return of communal seders in Pittsburgh
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Passover 2022 brings the return of communal seders in Pittsburgh

At synagogues and spaces throughout the area, groups plan holiday celebrations

A Passover Seder for 1,500 people is held in the decorated sports hall at Kibbutz Na'an in 1971. Photo by Fritz Cohen courtesy of Government Press Office via Flickr
A Passover Seder for 1,500 people is held in the decorated sports hall at Kibbutz Na'an in 1971. Photo by Fritz Cohen courtesy of Government Press Office via Flickr

Grab your favorite Haggadah and a comfortable pair of shoes: The communal seder has returned.

For the first time since 2019, several Pittsburgh congregations and organizations are hosting group seders — in person.

Rabbi Sruly Altein of Chabad of Squirrel Hill said he’s expecting between 100-150 people at Chabad on the first night of Passover.

Although it may be the largest gathering some attendees have attended in recent years, Altein said that Chabad will give participants ample space. In addition to having individual tables, the program is set up in a way that isn’t conducive to a lot of “mingling.”

Two miles west in Oakland, university students have several options for celebrating Passover, explained Dan Marcus, Hillel Jewish University Center’s executive director and CEO.

On the first night, while University of Pittsburgh Hillel students join Chabad of Pitt students for an on-campus seder, Carnegie Mellon University Hillel students will host their own get-together.

The following night, students will celebrate the seder with kosher-for-Passover to-go kits. Along with a seder plate, a hard-boiled egg, charoset (there is a nut-free option), parsley, bone, horseradish, romaine lettuce and a salt packet, the kit has a Haggadah and a hearty meal of apricot chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables, beet salad and brownies.

Before the holiday, interested students also can receive training from Hillel JUC staffers on how to lead a meaningful seder, Marcus said.

Additional educational opportunities will include lessons on how to clean a dorm room for Passover; what items are kosher for the holiday; and what are the Haggadah’s key ideas, he said.

Marcus anticipates engaging with more than 500 Jewish students through various Passover-related programs.

For many students, this year’s holiday will be their first time celebrating together on campus, he said. “We’re excited for them to experience a sense of community and belonging.”

During Passover at Rodef Shalom Congregation, congregants will have “the chance to both meet people they might not already know and commune … which many of us haven't done since 2019,” said Anna Gitlitz, the congregation’s marketing and communications manager.

On April 20 at 7 p.m. Women of Rodef Shalom is hosting a seder for all members of the congregation, not just women, Gitlitz said. “In deference to COVID-19 concerns, dinner won't be served, but attendees are welcome to bring a Passover-friendly dessert to share.”

There is no cost to attend, but the congregation is asking participants to RSVP by April 6 and follow Rodef Shalom’s COVID guidelines, including vaccination for everyone above age 5, barring medical exceptions. Additionally, Rodef Shalom will follow any updated masking guidelines recommended by the CDC, Gitlitz noted.

Temple Emanuel of South Hills is welcoming the community for a second-night seder at 5:30 p.m., while continuing to remain cognizant of COVID-safe practices.

Leslie Hoffman, Temple Emanuel’s executive director, said the seder meal will be served “family-style at the tables,” and that if participants wish to sit solely with members of their own family the request can be accommodated.

Registration for the multigenerational musical seder experience is due April 5. The cost is $36 for adults and $18 for children.

The interactive evening will include craft projects, snacks before a catered meal, a fully-transliterated Haggadah and a chance to reconnect in “sacred community,” Hoffman said.

The chance for celebrants to be together isn’t lost on Congregation Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Seth Adelson. As a lead-up to the holiday, Adelson is reminding congregants that one of Passover’s central themes is gathering.

Adelson is encouraging congregants to join Beth Shalom’s second-night seder at 6 p.m. on April 16.

Registration is available online, along with information about Beth Shalom’s vaccination requirements and COVID-related policies.

Adelson noted how grateful he is to celebrate Passover this year and hopes that sentiment is shared.

“Gathering with others in person is an essential imperative in Jewish life,” he said. “As we read in Pirkei Avot, ‘Al tifrosh min hatzibbur’ (Do not isolate yourself from your community). After two years of pandemic isolation, of Zooming and staying apart from one another to protect the vulnerable, we have now returned to the point where it is quite safe to gather once again. “We should make a special effort to do so this year.” PJC

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

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