For many, the prospect of hosting a large group of hungry college students would seem to be a herculean endeavor — but for Rabbi Nosson Meretsky, it’s just another holiday weekend.
Meretsky is the director of Chabad of Penn State. Since 2002, he and his family have opened their home and their Seder to anyone in the State College community in need of a place to celebrate Passover. Last year saw attendance reach almost 100 people, a large majority of them students from Penn State.
“We try to be a home away from home for the Jewish students,” Meretsky said.
He estimates that there are approximately 5,000 Jewish students on campus — many of whom will take advantage of the weekend to spend the Seder with family or friends back home. By Friday, 30 people had given notice that they planned on celebrating the holiday with the Meretskys and by 7:30 p.m., a small crowd was seated at dining tables stacked end to end across the room. Many of them lit candles before taking their seat.
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The Seder didn’t officially begin until sundown — but for the rabbi, wife Sarah Ita Meretsky and their eight children, preparation began more than a month ago, gathering dishes from storage, readying the kitchen and getting the word out. Meretsky doesn’t mind working on behalf of Penn State’s Jewish students.
“It’s why we came to State College,” Meretsky said.
After they married, Meretsky and his wife spent a year living in Brooklyn, N.Y., positioned within a close distance to Jewish schools, restaurants and grocery stores. They decided to move to central Pennsylvania to be a resource for others without such easy access to cultural touchstones.
This year, one of those people is Penn State freshman Zachary Lansing, who attended Meretsky’s Seder for the first time. He sat near the end of one of the long tables, quietly talking with friends.
“I think it’s cool. It’s open like a community,” Lansing said.
For student Kristina Adams, Friday marked her first Seder — ever. Adams’ mother is Catholic, but now that the freshman is at college she has begun exploring other faiths.
“I was always interested in exploring the Jewish religion,” Adams said.