Hillel Jewish University Center is doing something unusual for a campus Jewish organization: It’s telling its members to go somewhere else for Passover.
No kidding. Hillel, which usually hosts scores of Jewish students from Pitt, Carnegie Mellon and the city’s other universities for a community seder, is encouraging students to make their own seders this year.
And the students are responding.
According to Hillel, at least 18 seders are being planned across the city by students and Hillel administrators and board members. They are being held in apartments, dormitories, fraternity houses and university space.
Approximately 400 students have signed up to attend one of these satellite seders — a significant increase over last year, when Hillel served 100-150.
“We’ll serve a lot more students and we have 18 times as many seders,” said Carly Adelmann, a Hillel JUC intern who is organizing the program.
Many of the seders will be traditional and kosher, but some will be geared to more liberal Jews. Others will be “vegetarian friendly.”
Hillel JUC is sponsoring the seders, providing food, tables, chairs, training and hagadas.
“We do everything else ourselves,” said Jake Futerfas, a brother of Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at Pitt, which is hosting one of the seders.
Students who sign up may choose which seder to attend, Adelmann said. “Every seder is open.”
After noticing a disconnect between the students and the holiday in the past, Hillel JUC decided to try something different this year.
“Every year Passover sort of sneaks up on us,” Adelmann, said. “It comes right after spring break. Students can come to the Hillel and celebrate, but it’s not the same experience as having Passover with your family in an intimate seder. We wanted to try a new system.”
As part of the individual seder idea, which came from the University of Chicago Hillel, Pittsburgh offered the volunteer hosts several themes around which to plan their seders, but most chose a traditional kosher event.
“That did surprise me,” Adelmann said, “but after talking to the students, the main message was students wanted to share their own family traditions.”
But there is some variation.
Adelmann, for instance is eschewing the catered food from Hillel for something more cosmopolitan. “I’m actually cooking my own meal and we’re doing an around the world seder.”
Caryn Goldenberg, a senior at Pitt, is hosting one of the seders at her apartment — the first time she’s ever made one, and she’s expecting 15 guests.
“Between my boyfriend and another guy, we’ll kind of take turns [leading],” she said.
She plans to serve a brisket, but said her seder will be “vegetarian friendly” offering dishes such as apple and potato kugel.
It will also have a kos Miriam (Miriam’s cup) on the table. A new ritual for Passover seders. The kos Miriam honors the role of Miriam as a prophetess in the Exodus and highlights the contributions of women to Jewish culture.
“Something that resonates with me and my friends is this more laid back service,” Goldenberg said, “and we wanted to get women involved.”
There will still be seders on the first two nights of Passover at the Hillel JUC.
This week, Rabbi Scott Aaron, the Agency for Jewish Learning’s community scholar, is hosting two workshops for the hosts, giving them instruction on the use of the hagada and the basics on leading a seder. Each host is required to attend.
“We’re trying to empower students even more than we already do,” Adelmann said.
At the ZBT house, Futerfas, who will lead the seder with a friend, expects about 25 participants (mostly brothers, but a few friends and students who signed up for a seder).
“I think we’re just going to play it by ear,” he said of the service. “This is the first time we’re really doing something like this.”
He expects the service to stick pretty close to the basic hagada, though there may be a little deviation.
“We were talking about having our pledges act out the ‘The Four Sons’ scene,” Futerfas said, “but nothing definite yet.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)