Every Spring, Jews around the world remember the biblical Exodus of Jews from Egypt and their emancipation from slavery during the holiday of Passover, or, Pesach, in Hebrew. Passover 2015 will begin at sunset on April 3, 2015.
Learn more from Lenna Scott, Jewish Educational Professional, about observing this holiday in assisted living.
The holiday has a variety of observances including the removal of all leavened products from the home and the prohibition against eating such products for the entire eight day holiday (seven in Israel); the commandment to eat Matzah, unleavened bread at least during the Passover Seder; and the Seder — a ceremonial meal with a prescribed order and rituals.
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One of the underlying messages of these practices is to help all Jews to remember that: “We were slaves in Egypt,” and retain the connection of Judaism today to the traditions of the Torah.
The Passover Seder is central to that concept and incorporated into the ceremonial meal are activities designed to engage both children and adults and encourage questions.
The Passover Seders occur on the first two nights of the holiday and can be a multi-hour evening that may not be suitable for all seniors. But, according to Rabbi Charni Selch, Outreach Coordinator and Staff Chaplain of the Jewish Chaplains Council of Massachusetts, Passover offers a beautiful opportunity to connect in an intergenerational way.
“Every generation should look at it like we left Egypt,” shares Rabbi Selch.
She says this offers an opportunity to engage seniors in a meaningful conversation. “What’s the earliest Seder memory that you have? What kind of oppression have you seen that doesn’t exist anymore?”
Rabbi Selch also says that while a traditional multi-hour Seder may not be appropriate, senior communities can offer opportunities that go beyond simply serving Matzah instead of bread.
“Sometimes it’s about not following a Haggadah [the traditional prayer book for the Seder], but talking about what Pesach means and following through on that,” she explains. “Asking the senior ‘so what do you need on the Seder table to make it a holiday for you?'”
While officially the Seder meal is supposed to occur on the first and second night of the Holiday, many senior communities elect to hold a “mock” or “alternative” Seder at another time to encourage family and community participation. Parachaplain Michelle Rose hosts such events at a variety of communities throughout the Chicago area. This gives families who may be torn between being with their loved one at a community and celebrating in a more traditional way an option to honor both.
“Why not have a third Seder or a fifth Seder — a family Seder you could do it anytime during the week. Even if it’s for a half hour then it’s something that’s meaningful,” adds Rabbi Selch.
Incorporating music and song is also a way to engage seniors and their families. “I have found that the songs and melodies take people back so incredibly strongly. Even if it’s just background music,” she says.
Many Jewish senior living communities welcome volunteers to help during these type of programs and it’s a great opportunity for kids to volunteer as well. Contact a Jewish senior living community and ask about their planned events.
Lenna Scott is a professional journalist, Jewish educator and has worked in the Chicago-area marketing skilled nursing and senior living communities. She loves to use her expertise to help families understand, navigate and communicate the challenges of seniors. She lives with her husband and two children in Buffalo Grove, Illinois.
Have you or a loved one celebrated Passover in assisted living? What was your experience like? Share your story with us in the comments below.