I am writing this article as I sit in an airport waiting for a delayed plane. It is a week before Pesach, though this article will probably not be published for several weeks. Pesach is the holiday most observed by all Jews no matter what their affiliation is to Judaism. Despite the work required to bring in this Yom Tov, it remains a wonderful time, with wonderful memories, when families and friends get together. Grandparents and parents revel in the recitation of the “Ma Nishtana” by their little ones, enjoy the songs of “Pharaoh in Pajamas” and the bargaining that will soon begin over the Afikoman. All are a reminder that the tuition was well worth it.
I am watching the Jews board and disembark from planes, smiling, eager to spend Yom Tov with family. Whether wearing black hats or baseball caps, knitted kipas or nothing at all on their heads, we recognize each other and smile Yom Tov greetings to each other as we pass.
As I sit here, my mind wanders back to what the rabbi said this Shabbos when I was a guest in a different city. The rabbi reviewed all the Halachot (Jewish Laws) and reminded people about what they need to do this year, since Pesach begins just as Shabbos ends. But then he stopped. He reviewed what we say as we begin to read the Haggadah, inviting all who are hungry to join us. But by then, it is really too late. He asked his congregation to stop for a moment in their “mountain” of Pesach preparation and spend a few minutes reminding themselves of who lived in their communities and who may be making a Seder for themselves, or maybe not at all.
He asked everyone to think about the disabled, the well spouses, the widows and single people among us who could very well be alone this holiday. He reminded us that it was not too late to invite them (although it would be, by the time we will have recited the passage from the Haggadah next week). He offered to be the “shadchan” (the match maker) and asked those who would be alone, or know of someone in that situation, to let him know. He further asked that anyone with room at their Yom Tov table, also willing to host, to let them know and he would make the match.
I couldn’t help but think that if every rav in every synagogue took a few minutes to remind us all to do the same before every Yom Tov, how wonderful it would be to see no one celebrating alone. Most of us would be more than willing to host, had we just thought of it in our busy time of preparation.
It is a terrible thing to be alone on a Yom Tov. Not getting an invitation to join others, while making a Seder for one, can create feelings of depression and pain. Many well spouses with partners in nursing care, the location of which is too far to walk, are in just such a situation. Sitting by a hospital bed, reading your Haggadah is not an ideal way to spend the few hours of the Seder either. Nor is sitting alone at your own table. Do not assume that either the person who is sick or their partner would prefer to be alone or alone together at a hospital or care facility for the holidays. Invite them and let them make the decision.
Many of the support groups I attended said that they, as well as their chronically ill partners, would prefer that they be invited to someone’s Seder − together if possible − or alone if there is no alternative. The invitations we extend can make a huge difference in people’s lives. Even if they are not accepted, just knowing someone thought about them at holiday time can mean the difference between being depressed or not. It may be the only positive thing they can hold on to for that holiday. It can easily turn depression to joy and even avoid thoughts of suicide, which can be very common for those who are alone during holiday time.
It will have been too late for this Pesach, but remembering those people who are alone and including them for the next Yom Tov − or even an ordinary Shabbos − is a commitment we can all take on. Even better, it is something we can remind each other to do and to ask that our leaders to remind us to do. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in a community where no one spent Yom Tov alone and depressed?
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