What’s NEXT for Birthright alumni? Hosting Seders

Some young adults in Alabama and Louisiana are among hundreds of Birthright Israel alumni who hosted Passover Seders with friends through NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel.

Birthright alumni who registered before the holiday could receive resources and a small stipend to help them put on a Seder. Since 2011, over 1,000 such Seders have been hosted.

“We know that young Jewish adults crave opportunities to create unique and personally meaningful Jewish experiences,” says Morlie Levin, CEO of NEXT. “By making opportunities and resources like this more readily available, we can help Birthrighters continue the journey they started on their Birthright Israel trips. NEXT Passover Seders tap into the creativity and passion of the Birthright Israel Generation — and the desire to engage in Jewish experiences with their peers.”

According to NEXT, there were 10 signed up in Louisiana and three in Alabama.

Madison Silverstein, a Dallas native who is currently a Ph.D. student in clinical psychology at Auburn, said Passover “allows me the opportunity to bring together my friends (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc.) and family and tell a story that, regardless of background, everyone knows.”

She said this is her first Seder in Alabama, and her mother was flying in from Lake Charles to help her prepare a vegetarian meal with Israeli influences instead of traditional American foods.

She calls Birthright “the best experience I have had,” because she had been taking being Jewish for granted and “never took the time to process the larger meaning of what it means to be Jewish. Now, I am a proud Jew.”

Silverstein is “so excited to share my culture with my new friends here” and noted that many had never met a Jew before.

For Joshua Cohen, being part of NEXT Seder fit in with what he was already doing.

A New Jersey native, Cohen did a Seder for friends at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is in the third year of medical school. While he has interacted with the local Jewish community recently, when he first arrived he was mostly on campus.

The busy life of a medical school student made it difficult to go home for Seder, so that first year he threw a Seder for friends, “many of whom had never been to seder or knew about Passover. I made matzah ball soup, latkas, haroset, hard boiled eggs, and many of my friends helped make things as well.” He hosted a Seder again the following year.

Cohen went on Birthright in February after putting it off for a while. “The trip was great and definitely helped me become more connected with my Jewish history and identity,” he said.

He was already planning his third annual Seder at UAB when he found out about the NEXT program, and figured he might as well register.

Many of those who have hosted NEXT Passover Seders in the past say they enjoy the traditions of the holiday and have fond memories of celebrating when they were younger. According to NEXT, they want to “own” and share that experience with peers — last year, more than 50 percent of those who signed up said it was their first time ever hosting a Passover Seder.

NEXT’s other do-it-yourself offerings, including its High Holidays Initiative, aim to make Jewish experiences more accessible to Birthright Israel alumni. Additionally, NEXT’s flagship initiative, NEXT Shabbat, has helped more than 7,600 Birthright Israel alumni host more than 17,800 Shabbat meals for their friends, creating Jewish experiences that have drawn a total attendance of tens of thousands of young adults.

“There are nearly 250,000 Birthright alumni in the U.S. — it is our mission to help them explore deeper Jewish living and learning,” Levin added. “During holidays, we especially see their passion and sense of ingenuity that breathes new life into Jewish experiences and helps to build vibrant communities. It’s incredibly inspiring to our team, and reminds us why we do this holy work.”