Finish up the chametz. Clean the house. Shop and cook for the seder: it’s the same to-do list each year.
But for the five 20-somethings living at Pittsburgh’s first Moishe House, this season kicks off their inaugural pre-Pesach preparation as a group.
“This is our first Passover together,” said Naomi Fireman, a resident of the house that opened in August to provide a Jewish home-based environment for the young people who live there, as well as other young people throughout the community.
“Saturday night, we are having a chametz party to finish up the beer that we can’t finish before Passover,” she said. “And we are all cleaning our house for Passover on Sunday. It will be all hands in.”
The kitchen of Moishe House, which is kosher year-round, will be specially kashered for the holiday, and different dishes will be used for the week, Fireman said. And everyone will be pitching in to do the shopping and cooking, getting ready for a second-night seder for about 15 people.
“We’re all really good cooks,” she said.
Fireman and her housemate Zachary Demby recently returned from San Francisco where they attended a Moishe House retreat to learn strategies for leading a meaningful seder.
“It will be a small, more intimate second-night seder,” Fireman said. “We will focus on modern social justice, catering it to what’s going on in the United States or developing countries, and the need for justice.”
Moishe House is an international organization based in Oakland, Calif. The organization, through grants given by local federations and fundraising efforts, subsidizes the rent of its residents and provides a monthly budget of $500 that is used to run programs for the wider 20-something Jewish community.
While there is so far just one Moishe House in Pittsburgh, there are 12 throughout the East Coast, which includes Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C. Each house is responsible for creating its own programming that includes: Jewish culture and holidays; Jewish learning; tikkun olam (repairing the world, or social action); and purely social events, according to Rebecca Bar, East Coast regional director of Moishe House.
“Pittsburgh has met with a ton of success,” Bar said. “The Pittsburgh house has been hosting great numbers, and its diversity of programming has brought in a lot of new people.”
The residents of Pittsburgh’s Moishe House host at least seven Jewish-related programs each month, including the popular Shabbrunch, a brunch on Shabbat that typically attracts about 25 people, who then hang out at the house throughout the afternoon.
For the Shabbat that occurs during Passover, Moishe House will host a Matzobreinch, a brunch featuring matzo brei, Fireman said.
The five Pittsburgh Moishe House residents come from various Jewish denominations and form a cohesive group that work together to keep Judaism alive for a demographic that typically does not affiliate with synagogues or other formal Jewish institutions.
“When I graduated from CMU (Carnegie Mellon University) last May, I was looking for a way to remain involved in the Jewish community,” said David Zaidins, a 23-year-old researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Drug Discovery Institute, who lives at the house. “Moishe House has been great. I like the fact that we always have the next holiday and event to look toward.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)