By Steven Schauder, Executive Director, Jewish Family Service
Originally published in Community Review, 3/26/21
I’d like to highlight something that you might not have ever considered– the whole miracle of Passover begins with the adoption of a baby. In an effort to save her son’s life, an unnamed Jewish mother has her child placed near the bathing spot of the Egyptian princess. Finding this Hebrew boy, the Egyptian princess adopts him, names him, and raises him as her own son. Had Moses not been adopted, who is to say how the Exodus would have transpired? As an organization that has helped facilitate close to 5,000 adoptions and foster care placements in our history, JFS recognizes that every child deserves a loving home and each child has the capacity to change the world, if given the chance.
In approaching the Passover story with new perspectives, we can also find new meanings this year in the themes of subjugation, suffering, liberation and freedom that underpin the Passover narrative. Clearly, our collective experience dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has given us a deeper insight into the stresses and anxieties that happen when you are experiencing a plague. One custom in our tradition is to dip our pinkies in our wine glasses to remove a drop as we read out the ten plagues. Our tradition teaches us that we do this to remind us of the suffering of the Egyptians during the plagues—we remove wine from our cups to acknowledge the suffering of other human beings.
As a social and human service agency, JFS is well aware of the challenges people face when in crisis. We have all seen the mental health crisis emerge during COVID; according to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder in January 2021, and many adults are reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and well-being, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. Early reports show that children are struggling as well, reporting high rates of clinginess, distraction, irritability, and fear, with younger children being more likely to exhibit these behaviors.
As we all experience some of the debilitating consequences of isolation, anxiety, and depression, we can look to the central theme of Passover as a roadmap that takes us all from slavery to freedom. While the Israelites begin their journey toward freedom on the night of Passover, it is a much longer process until they are truly free. The oppression and the brutality they experienced in Egypt can not simply be shrugged off but weighs heavily on the generation leaving Egypt. There is a long process of recovery that takes place until the people are able to move forward in their lives.
JFS will always be here to help those struggling in our community—be it with stress, depression or anxiety or making sure that there is ample food on the tables of our community members. As I write these words, JFS is partnering with our Jewish Federation, our Jewish Community Foundation and area synagogues to reach out to community members in need to make sure everyone has the means necessary to host a Passover Seder this year. We remain committed to being a positive agent of change in our community and to helping our community members reach their full potential and achieve health, wholeness, and stability.