From the largest Passover celebrations to more intimate gatherings, hundreds of thousands of people are expected at communal Seders around the world.

Run by Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and rabbinical students, such ceremonies fill a niche for Jewish men, women and children without a Seder of their own to attend or, for whatever reason, looking for a chance to celebrate with friendly faces. Among the thousands scheduled for Monday and Tuesday nights, those at campus Chabad Houses are expected, as in years past, to draw students from across the spectrum of Jewish life.

At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Duke University – where the local Chabad House has already hosted a model matzah bakery for students and local families, and delivered special handmade unleavened bread known as shmura matzah to addresses across campus – plans call for two public Seders to feed close to 300 guests.

“I’m really excited for Passover here,” says Duke senior Danielle Litt. “All the Jews on campus come together for an entire week.”

Beginning this year on Monday night and lasting until March 6, the holiday of Passover recalls the Jewish people’s deliverance from Egyptian servitude as described in the Book of Exodus. Traditionally taking place in the spring, it can fall smack dab in the middle of the academic calendar, leaving students without a chance to celebrate with their families.

“My first year here, I was nervous as to what I would do for Passover away from my family,” explains Litt. “But I’ve seen how hard Rabbi Zalman and Yehudis Bluming work to make sure that all of our needs are met. It’s great to know that we have support here, that if I can’t celebrate at home, I can celebrate with my home away from home.

Paula Kweskin, a third-year law student at UNC Chapel Hill, echoes Litt’s sentiments.

“Every Passover at school is so nice,” says Kweskin, a Charlotte native. “The whole community gets together and eats together. Every night there are beautiful dinners at the Chabad House and you feel so much more connected to the community because of it.”

Rabbi Zalman and Yehudis Bluming’s son peels sweet potatoes in preparation for their Chabad House’s communal Seder.
Rabbi Zalman and Yehudis Bluming’s son peels sweet potatoes in preparation for their Chabad House’s communal Seder.

Off-Campus Connections

Hours away at the University of Iowa, Rabbi Avrohom and Chaya Blesofsky, directors of Chabad of Iowa City, will also be hosting two public Seders and other holiday meals from their home. They expect around 40 guests.

“The Chabad Seders are real,” says one local resident who goes by the name of Tuvya. “You can see that the Seder has more to it than just bitter herbs and grape juice. They explain the reasons for everything. And most importantly, every year the rabbi adds something new, a deeper meaning of what things at the Seder signify.”

Young professionals, singles and families have similar experiences in the off-campus world.

Ilan Golik, a Russian-born Israeli who now calls Boise, Idaho, home, says that the Seders at the Chabad Jewish Center of Idaho run by Rabbi Mendel and Chaya Lifshitz, represent a return to tradition.

“We’ve spent all of our Seders with the Lifshitz family since we moved here three years ago, because it’s a more traditional Seder,” says Golik. “It’s become a tradition for us to go there. I want to show my children the way the Seder should be.”

“Living in a community so small as this, our options for Seders are limited,” echoes Allen Gorin, who has been living in nearby Eagle for the past 11 years since moving from Providence, R.I. “We would either have the Seder with our non-Jewish friends, or would have a very small Seder with just our two daughters. [But,] our Seders at Chabad have been very fulfilling. It’s a very warm experience there.”