Adam Pollack, senior director of NEXT’s Western region, said the Passover project encourages young people to develop their own experiences and personal version of the holiday. In Los Angeles, a number of hosts in their 20s and 30s are participating this year.
“They’re reinventing Passover rituals,” he said. “We provide educational materials so that they can understand what is possible. Some pick and choose what they like. Some discuss social justice, and others talk with their friends about the traditions. In the most clear sense, it’s do-it-yourself.”
Birthright alumni who sign up to host seders — registration ends April 14 — receive $10 per guest for food and supplies. It’s required for hosts to hold their seders on the first two nights and to give feedback afterward, according to Pollack.
Since 2011, when the project began, more than 1,000 people have hosted NEXT Passover seders. Thirty-year-old Danielle Kreinik-Siegel, who lives in Carthay Circle, held her first seder in 2012, five years after returning from Birthright.
“I think, especially for people my age and younger, that it’s important to learn how to have a seder,” she said. “We have seders every single year as a family, and I had no idea how I was going to do it myself. I couldn’t afford to do a seder with friends, and many people wouldn’t be able to celebrate if it wasn’t for a program like Birthright.”
Falyn Sokol, 26, who lives in the Pico-Robertson area, held her first seder in 2011 with 14 friends. This year, she plans to welcome a dozen guests into her home to commemorate Passover.
“The seders offer an opportunity to celebrate the culture and the community aspect of it and bring my friends together,” she said.
After her experience hosting a few seders through NEXT, 28-year-old Becka Ross was able to lead the dinner at her family’s house.
“My parents were so impressed that I was able to plan and cook an entire seder meal, and [by] the additions I had made to our family haggadah,” she wrote the Journal in an e-mail. “All of that I had gained from my experiences of hosting Birthright NEXT seders.”
Pollack said that hosts put their own twists on the holiday. Kreinik-Siegel created her own haggadah and included information about social issues and pictures from the show “Arrested Development.”
She said, “It makes people want to be part of it. I’ve gone to really long and boring seders, and I wanted to make it fun.”
Along with the Passover project, NEXT holds Shabbat and High Holy Days initiatives that also are aimed at getting young Jews more involved with Judaism. There are thousands of Birthright alumni in the United States who have connected with their peers through these offerings, which are intended to provide them with a space to celebrate their religion and heritage.
Sokol said the Jewish people are strengthened by this particular NEXT initiative.
“It’s important to keep the culture of Judaism alive and to connect with other Jewish people,” she said. “There is something about the culture and the community that, no matter where you are, when you find it, you’re home.”