Seders for Seniors

(Stock Photo)

Post retirement, it is important for people to stay engaged with activities and organizations. Even those who are unable to live independently still want to celebrate milestones and holidays, including Passover.

And with Passover fast approaching, area senior living facilities with Jewish populations are preparing for the holiday.

Sherrie Polsky, director of community life at North Oaks, said that observing all of the major holidays serves a great need for the residents. The community has Shabbat services every Friday, and area synagogues with congregants who have moved to North Oaks send clergy to visit once or twice a year.

“We want to keep our residents involved, active, engaged and connected to their organizations,” she said. “We are happy that residents can stay connected with their families and observe the holidays.”

For the past five years, the seder at North Oaks has been run by Steve Land, community work incentive coordinator for Jewish Community Services. It is a typical seder. He engages the audience as much as possible to perform the rituals and to read the stories and prayers out loud.

“Family members come and I always make sure to find someone younger than me for the four questions,” said Land. “Usually, a child wants to do it or a relative wants them to — we have fun with it. I try to make it as enjoyable and light as possible without losing the significance of the holiday. I mix a lot of the old traditional melodies with a few newer ones just to spice it up a bit.”

Land said that it is really the residents’ seder, that he is simply there to guide it along. He uses a haggadah that has both Hebrew and English to ensure that the audience understands what is going on and what’s being said.

“My feeling is that if you don’t know what you’re saying, it’s just a bunch of gibberish. It has to be understandable,” Land said. “There are some things that I think are more authentic in Hebrew, but I make sure to translate it. It means more when I know what I’m saying and can embellish it for the residents.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Orkin of Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital leads services at Levindale’s facilities in the afternoons during Passover. Orkin said that Passover is a huge deal at Levindale, and nearly everybody on staff participates.

Planners of the event meet three months prior to Passover to organize elements such as finding a proper location and planning menus for the meals. Since the facility has Jews and non-Jews, a letter is sent out each year inviting residents to the events and explaining the holiday and rituals such as not eating bread. Levindale also accommodates residents who wish to have private seders with family as opposed to joining the larger community seder.

“We use a special Hebrew/ English large-print haggadah and go through the highlights of the Passover seder, but we don’t cover every page,” said Orkin. “I usually joke that we have to pass over a page to get to the meal on time. I inject a lot of corny humor for residents and family members. They like it, although the staff might give me a look. I try to keep it upbeat and funny and participatory.”

Each seder typically caters to approximately 100 people. Orkin shared that one of the most difficult parts is getting everyone’s attention, so he always begins with something that will pique their interest, invariably the start of the Major League baseball season.

“It is just really family oriented,” said Helene King, media relations coordinator for LifeBridge Health, which owns Levindale. “There are always kids and grandkids, and it is a really beautiful service. I think it is something that everybody looks forward to all year. Everyone on staff volunteers for at least one of the seders, and we take it very seriously.”

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