Seder for the forgotten

Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh received a B.A. from Skidmore College and was ordained as a Rabbi from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She is fortunate to be involved in so many facets of the community including serving as the chaplain for JF&CS and an instructor for CAJE. This will be her fifth year serving as the visiting Rabbi in Decatur, Ill. She has also served congregations in both Sydney and Perth, Australia. When not writing her weekly BLOGS, she can be found running marathons.


Prior to a Festival, I like to ask the residents I visit in nursing homes and assisted living facilities about their childhood memories. I wonder about the tastes and colors of a pre WWII Seder. Is the table surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles and countless cousins? I long to hear about the homemade gefilte fish and the light and fluffy matzah balls. I smile as the resident recounts the search for the afikomen, a Seder read entirely in Hebrew and singing until midnight.

I was with an American-born resident discussing Passover when she began to cry. They were not tears of happiness. “I hate the holidays,” she declared. “You miss your husband, don’t you?” I replied. She quietly wiped her tears as she nodded in agreement.

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I allowed for some respectful silence before asking, “Are you going to be with family for the Holiday?” I should have stuck with the silence. “No one has asked. I just want a box of matzah.” she retorted. She then continued to tell me about the festive meals she hosted for so many years. Not a family member was excluded. “Everyone was invited and they all came” she told me.

It is so different today. Families go their own ways. The idea of extended family has been lost somewhere in the comfort of acculturation. A Seder is held when it is convenient which means no work or sporting conflicts.

I may add another cup of wine to my Seder table from this time forth for the forgotten generation who will spend Seder in a residential facility with nothing but memories, tears and a box of matzah.