By Joseph Wolkin and Cosette Nuñez
Following the Jewish tradition, the man of the house sits at the head of the table for the Passover seder, a seat Meyer Josephson has taken every year. This year, however, he is sitting somewhere else.
Instead of eating with his family, Josephson will be dining at the Long Island State Veterans Home, alongside other Jewish residents who can’t be with their families this holiday.
“I never had Passover here,” Josephson said. “I always had it at home and always ran it for my family. The Rabbi will run it here, though. This is like his family. I’ve never been here for Passover. It’s something new.”
Josephson is one of approximately 30 residents who attend weekly Shabbat services at the Home instead of a Synagogue due to their family’s inability to care for them Rabbi Joseph Topek, who runs the Stony Brook Hillel, said.
Come April 10, the Long Island State Veterans Home will host its 24th annual mock Seder for Passover, giving residents the opportunity to be a part of a service that played a large part of their Jewish life before they moved out of their homes.
Later in their lives, things are different for them.
It’s called a “mock” Seder because it’s shorter, takes place before Passover and the traditional food is modified out due to the dietary restrictions of the patients.
Rather than drinking the traditional four cups of wine, where people lean to the left to be symbolic of royalty, residents have a cup of grape juice.
“We don’t give them an entire meal because that would require a lot of assistance and supervision from nursing staff,” Topek said. “We do have nursing staff there, but they only get the symbolic foods for the Passover Seder.”
The meaning of the service would likely be deeper if the facility held an actual service, Dr. James Brawer, professor emeritus at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine, said.
Volunteers like Bruce Young want to make the experience as meaningful as they were in their homes since it is rare that residents will go home for the day.
“It makes me feel good that I’m contributing something instead of sitting at home,” Young said. “I had a friend of mine who was here, and when I came to visit him, I was impressed with the place. I decided to volunteer, and now I’ve been doing it for six years.”
Seeing people smile like veteran resident Josephson thanks to the help of Young and other volunteers is what it’s all about, Rabbi Topek said.
“It’s been 24 years since we started doing this and I still love it,” Topek said.
Leading the service at the Veterans Home will be his first stop before the holiday begins. As the Sun sets, he will lead the next generation of young Jewish adults at Stony Brook’s own Seder.