For Debbie Friedman, Passover is about family and multiple generations connecting.
“To me, that’s what’s fun,” says Debbie. “If it’s just people in their 30s and 40s sitting around a Seder table, well OK, you’re doing what you’ve always done, but it’s fun to tell the story to fresh ears and fresh eyes and see the generations interact.”
The eight-day Passover celebration, like most holidays, can be a time for families to share meals, stories and traditions. Debbie points out that it’s important to be aware of the physical and dietary needs of older loved ones during any holiday gathering.
“Typically as we celebrate Passover, most families will do two Seder meals, which is wonderful for having the seniors around because it is essentially telling the story from the older generations to the younger generations about the Exodus from Egypt and the liberation of the Jews from their bondage in slavery,” explains Debbie.
As the Director of Organizational Learning for Right at Home, Debbie is especially conscious of the needs of seniors at the holiday table. First of all, she points out that some of the Passover foods are not ideal for older digestive systems. Matzo is the unleavened bread that is a staple at the Passover table and is used in a wide variety of dishes including the popular Matzo Ball Soup.
“You want to include a lot of other foods as well,” says Debbie. “I’m sure any dietician would tell you that.” She points out that providing fruits and vegetables during the meal will make it healthier.
Debbie has several tips for families celebrating Passover with seniors. Several of her suggestions could apply to Easter dinner, Mother’s Day brunch or any upcoming event that includes older loved ones.
- The Haggadah: This is the story of Passover that families read at the table. Debbie suggests having a large-print version. The older adults and the young readers will be grateful.
- Meal Preparation: Have children and young adults help older generations prepare the meals and learn family recipes. “It’s a nice way to share that family history,” says Debbie.
- Wine: Four glasses of wine are traditionally consumed during the Seder meal. It’s important to have plenty of water for everyone—especially the seniors—to drink. “Grape juice is a great option,” says Debbie, who also suggests pouring smaller glasses of wine. “You don’t have to have an eight-ounce glass of wine—you can have a little two-ounce shot of wine. All you’re doing is you’re saying a blessing and you’re taking a drink of wine.”
- Fruit: “Charoseth is a delicious blend of chopped apples and walnuts and cinnamon and honey and a little bit of wine, and it’s representative of the mortar of the bricks the slaves in Egypt had to build for the Pharaoh,” says Debbie, who also mentions the dried fruits that play a role in the Sephardic Jewish traditions. These are great ways to get fiber into the meal.
- Dietary Restrictions: Because Kosher for Passover means that only unleavened bread can be consumed, many of the holiday dishes are gluten-free. Debbie likes treats like meringues and fudge. She suggests that cooking with sugar alternatives such as Splenda and stevia can be great for anyone watching their sugar or calorie intake.
- Activity: “There are a couple places in the Seder where the kids get up from the table and go open the door for Elijah, the spirit,” explains Debbie. “Seniors can help and that gets them up and moving a little bit. We also want to make sure the path is safe and there are not any obstacles in the path.”
There is another activity where the children search for a hidden piece of Afikomen—ceremonial matzo eaten at the end of the meal. Debbie suggests finding a way to involve seniors in the search.
“Whether you have a Seder or you sit around and watch Cecil B. DeMille’s ‘The Ten Commandments,’ it’s telling the Passover story, so you want seniors to participate, as much as they’re able,” she says.
Debbie grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where the Jewish community was tiny, but tight-knit.
“When you’re from a small town and there’s not so many—I was the only Jewish person in my graduating class—we have to preserve it because if we don’t, who will?” she explains. “And you feel that more poignantly in a small town than you do in a bigger community.”
Seniors are the people who pass those traditions to the next generation. Debbie is a new grandmother who is looking forward to not only spending time with her granddaughter, but seeing her own mother interact with the newest family member. Four generations will be together this year.