For Aliyah Weinstein, who moved to the area last August to begin an immunology graduate program at the University of Pittsburgh, this Passover was her first apart from her New Jersey-based family.
She wanted to host her own Seder, including new friends she had made at grad school, but the cost of hosting a Seder was daunting.
“It adds up very quickly,” she said. “It was actually cost prohibitive.”
Then she discovered NEXT’s Passover Initiative.
NEXT could be described as the next step after Birthright; in fact, it is a division of the Birthright Israel Foundation and aims to connect Birthright Israel trip alumni and their peers with Jewish opportunities at home.
Its Passover Initiative grants Birthright alumni up to $10 per Seder guest — for up to 15 guests — to enable young Jews to create a meaningful holiday experience.
“I did Birthright last summer 2013, and it was my first time in Israel,” said Weinstein. “I loved it. I was ready go back the day I headed home from Tel Aviv.”
NEXT begins contact with Birthright alumni almost immediately following their Israel trips, she said. “You get email with a lot of resources.”
But Weinsteain really didn’t take advantage of those resources until this Passover.
She combed the program’s website for ideas and traditions to incorporate into her Seder and put together her own Haggadah with a program offered on the site. Then, she invited five guests to her Squirrel Hill apartment to help her celebrate the holiday.
“Everyone was from my [grad school] program,” said Weinstein. “I was the only Jewish person. But it gave me the opportunity to explain and show what Passover is and my family’s traditions that I incorporated.”
Weinstein explained the meaning of the blessings and prayers, as well as the symbolic foods.
“Everyone asked a lot of questions,” she said. “It stretched my knowledge of the holiday. We had a good, open dialogue. It was good to compare how the Exodus story plays into different traditions.”
It was the first Seder experience for each of Weinstein’s guests, and for some, it was their first time attending any sort of Jewish event.
“I liked it,” said Mondraya Howard, one of Weinstein’s Seder guests. “I didn’t really know the history about it. I liked the reading and the telling of the story before the eating. And I liked the symbolism behind the food.”
Weinstein has applied to NEXT for $60 to help cover the cost of the food and other things she needed, like a Seder plate that she made herself at the pottery studio Color Me Mine.
Weinstein said she has a newfound appreciation for her mother’s annual assessment of Passover preparation.
“It’s very exhausting to host a Seder,” she said. “But I would consider doing it again.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)