Much as we wish it were so, even light and perfect matzah balls and having a Haggadah with contemporary readings doesnt assure that the Seder will be meaningful and warm experience for everyone. Moving from the pain of slavery to the joy of freedom for many of us can include moving from feeling ill at ease and insecure to knowing we are really wanted at the Seder table and in the family. Taking some time to figure out what will make us and each of our guests feel welcomed and accepted can make all the difference.
Here are some common situations that might arise and some suggestions to help this Passover to be a time when all feel welcome and more at ease:
Everyone is silent while eating the matzah ball soup, aware of Bubbes absence since each year in the past compliments went to her on her delicious soup
As hard as we try to make the soup just as Bubbe did and to go on with the festivities as best as we can, there is no way to avoid the sad and complicated feelings as we gather for holidays after the death of a loved one. Everyone mourns differently and misses loved ones in unique ways and no one way of coping with the loss is right for all. Saying what is really on everyones mind helps. We can acknowledge missing the person and can share our memories and stories of how much the person who has died used to look forward to, prepare for or even joke during the Seder. Some tears may be shed, some laughter some may want to continue the discussion, others may want to be distracted from painful feelings and striving for a balance is very much within the Jewish tradition of acknowledging sorrow amidst joy and joy amidst sorrow. Children and teens often show their grief differently than adults and rambunctious behavior, sullenness or silliness may be mistaken for indifference and here extra patience will go a long way. It is good to have escape routes, opportunities for those who are upset to get away from the table for a little while. Be aware that reactions that seem unrelated might actually be to changes in who is present at the Seder. Use the structure of the Seder to honor old traditions and memory while also introducing new readings, new foods and even some new traditions to convey a sense that life will continue and that the good in the past will not be lost as good things not yet tried become part of the present and future.
Your beautiful little niece who attends a nursery school for children with autism is covering her ears and rocking back and forth...
Depending on the developmental issues, individual personalities and particular needs there are things that you can do to make your niece or any children who may have communication, cognitive or attentional difficulties more comfortable. Speaking with parents in advance to get their suggestions will be helpful for everyone. Not only will it guide you in providing any special foods, seating or activities, it will also help parents to prepare their children to participate in ways they will enjoy. Parents can find ways to help their children anticipate what will occur on the day of the Seder, using cds of Passover music, books about the holiday and even photos of people who may be present. Many families find it helpful to have another room with adult supervision and quiet alternate activities made available where children can go for a respite during the Seder. Preparing other children who will be guests at the Seder to understand unfamiliar behaviors and ways of communicating will limit the likelihood of teasing or fear. Most importantly, conveying that no person is less welcome or needed contributes to the sense that this is a sacred occasion.
For more information on making our homes and congregations more welcoming and to further understand the needs of people living with various disabilities . Disability Awareness
A distant cousin who does keep in touch with the rest of the family all year long keeps trying to give wine to the nephew who just returned from rehab .
Almost all families and friendship circles include members who have struggled with addictions; the very same families include members who seem to be oblivious to the fact that some of us are in recovery and should not be encouraged to drink. If your guest is comfortable discussing his recovery with you ask him in advance how he would like his sobriety to be handled at the Seder. Providing as many carafes or bottles of grape juice as wine and asking each person each time a glass is poured which is the preferred drink prevents any one guest from feeling embarrassed or singled out. If your guest is not comfortable being around wine at all this is an important change that might be made to the Seder. If your family chooses to have an alcohol-free Seder in the spirit of affirming the journey from the wilderness of addiction to the freedom of sobriety it is important to inform guests in advance so that they will neither expect or joke about the lack of wine nor bring wine as a gift. No reference should be made to the individual difficulty of any person attending. There will be guests who are unaware of the important events that have gone on in the lives of other guests because they have not kept in touch. Their greater future involvement will be better encouraged by making them comfortable at the Seder and not joking about their having kept themselves apart during the past year. We will honor the Jewish tradition that teaches that embarrassing others is to be avoided if we only relate information when we have permission to do so and we also avoid commenting on seeming insensitivities when a guest commits what might ordinarily be seen as a faux pas.
For more information on helping your family and congregation to respond most helpfully to issues related mental health, substance abuse etc.... Mental Health
Your sister in law brings her father in his wheelchair and it takes you a half-hour to improvise a ramp and put it out so that he can get in the house .
We say, Let all who are hungry come eat at the Seder and so we welcome unexpected guests and try to scramble to find a place at the table graciously. It is helpful if we can find out in advance who will be there and prepare accordingly. For example it is helpful to have a ramp in place before the arrival of a guest who uses a wheelchair so that he or she does not feel as though they are inconveniencing anyone or becoming the focus of embarrassing attention. Although it isnt easy with a houseful of guests, try to make sure that your house has some clear pathways so that the wheelchair can move freely. When setting the table make sure that you allow ample room for the chair. Similar steps should be taken for all people with physical disabilities. If a hearing impaired individual is attending your Seder make sure that he or she is seated near the person who will be leading. If a visually impaired individual will be in attendance make a large print or Braille copy of the Haggadah and special readings and seat them in a location that has good lighting. Although it is important to recognize disabilities and make your Seder more accommodating it is important to remember that the person with a disability wants attention for who they are as person and not because of their disability.
For more information on helping our families and congregations to respond most compassionately to those with physical disabilities Disability Awareness
In an attempt to include everyones voice in the Seder you ask people to go around the table taking turns reading. When it is your daughters boyfriends turn he looks panicked and stumbles over words before your daughter takes over the reading .
Limited vision, dyslexia, stuttering, aphasia following strokes, learning disabilities, lack of fluency in English all can cause guests to feel either unable or deeply embarrassed if asked to read. Inquire in advance of the Seder or before the ritual begins if guests would like to read and assign pages. Try to offer other ways to participate that dont involve reading. Not all of us are so organized in advance so it is important on the day of the Seder to say some like to read, some like to listen, some just like to sing or clear the dishes and if you dont want to read just indicate we should move onto the next person. Thrilling as it is to hear young children able to join in the reading for the first time, try to remember not to praise the fluent reading of one child when others are present for whom reading is much more of a struggle.
For more information on helping our families and congregations to respond most sensitively to those with reading, language and communication challenges Disability Awareness