Not all who Wander are Lost: KAHAL and Global Day of Jewish Learning Bring Meaning to Seders Around the World

Students and community members celebrating Seder at the Beit Rambam community in Sevilla, Spain.

By Jessie Gindea

Last year, Ross, a student at the University of Maryland, spent his Passover at Chabad in Rome. As per Jewish tradition, every year at the end of the Seder everyone says “next year in Jerusalem.” At that moment, Ross was struck with the deep appreciation that he was celebrating this century old holiday in Rome surrounded by Jews from all over the world, so he added, “this year in Rome, next year in Jerusalem.” He told us that be couldn’t believe where he was and how lucky he was to be celebrating in that manner, that he literally had to say it out loud. His experience is one that will shape the way that he celebrates Passover every year, and he will always be able to come back to that moment of understanding that Jews throughout time will be saying the same words all over the world.

KAHAL connects Jewish students like Ross traveling all over the world with the resources and tools to have meaningful Jewish experiences abroad. This Passover, not only will KAHAL place more than 1,000 students at seders with synagogues, communities, host families, and local students all over the globe, but KAHAL will also offer all students an incredible learning resource to add meaning and wisdom to their Seder – wherever they might be. To do so, KAHAL is partnering with The Global Day of Jewish Learning. The Global Day of Jewish learning is a project of the Aleph Society and Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, uniting Jewish communities across the world through study of our shared texts. The Global Day of Jewish Learning has taken some of the original texts from the Passover seder and crafted thought-provoking, personalized, introspective questions to help make this holiday both traditional and deeply personal.

When humans travel, they do so for one reason above all others: to make memories. We carry the memory of our travels with us, in a state of heightened consciousness, for the rest of our lives. Students, like Ross, remember every moment of their Seder abroad, and it influences every Seder they will have for the rest of their lives. For KAHAL, it was important this year – now serving more than 1000 students – to acknowledge our profound responsibility: to add deep Jewish wisdom and meaning to this moment. Together with the Global Day of Jewish Learning, we are providing students with a unique and powerful resource – one which will frame not only their Seder abroad, but likely many Seders to come.

Judaism, according to Rabbi Avrum Infeld, is not a religion – but a family. This family transcends time, language, background, and so much more. Yet it can often be difficult for American Jews to truly grasp this idea. For most, their Jewish community is a relatively heterogeneous group. When they travel abroad, exploring Jewish communities so vastly different in size, background, and makeup from their own, they find themselves immersed in this family. Connecting deeply to the concept of global Jewish peoplehood, even for just one meal, can profoundly change how students choose to incorporate Judaism into their lives.

Erica, one of our NYU Global Ambassador Interns studying in Florence, reflected on her time abroad thus far: “Since I started traveling this semester I have a much deeper appreciation for being Jewish. The fact is that no matter where I am in the world, I can always find a community. It always feels like I am coming ‘home’ and it has really helped me to find my sense of identity.” More than 25,000 American Jewish students like Erica study abroad each year. This year, KAHAL will connect more than 1700 to Jewish life abroad – bringing them “home,” when otherwise far from it. Many abroad students, particularly midway through their experience, find themselves lonely, and even a bit homesick. When KAHAL makes a student, like Erica, feel at home 4000 miles away, it creates for her a sense of ownership – one which empowers her to take more journeys to the center of Jewish meaning.

Rabbi Adin Evan-Israel Steinsaltz says, “Our individual journeys begin when we tear ourselves away from the state of aimlessness. This is the first step… Clearly, at this stage one does not fully understand the significance and future consequences of the spontaneous first step into the unknown. Only later does one reach a degree of maturity and self-knowledge that gives an understanding of the road taken. [This] is the departure from material and spiritual nothingness in the direction of a new and as yet unknown destination…” KAHAL’s students have begun their own journeys, and it is our job, together with The Global Day of Jewish Learning and other partners, to help students find their own meaning within the journey. Between the ceremonial eight glasses of wine (they are abroad after all…), delicious meals, meaningful learning, and relationships built, this is going to be one particularly special Passover.

Jessie Gindea is International Program Manager for KAHAL.