At Passover, a spirit of hope comes to long-term care

Rabbi Moshe Ezagui
Rabbi Moshe Ezagui

The Jewish story of Passover is one of hope and renewal, and both themes resonated deeply this year at the largest long-term care sites in CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.

Rabbi Moshe Ezagui, along with staff from Recreation and from Food Services, brought the spirit of the holiday to Donald Berman Maimonides and Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare through celebrations with residents on their units.

In 2020, Passover coincided with the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and most celebrations were suspended. That changed this year.

At Maimonides, “mock” seders—where the story of Passover is retold—were held on individual units in the week leading up to Passover in late March. Residents were able to enjoy Passover songs accompanied by piano, and Rabbi Ezagui had them follow the order of the traditional Passover seder ritual, which includes food, songs and readings. The Maimonides kitchen supplied seder plates and matzah, unleavened bread that is eaten on Passover.

Rabbi Ezagui says the residents were engaged, and the experience brought back happy memories for them. “They followed along by singing and clapping to the songs,” he said. “The music really helped bring out the spirit of the seder.”

Because seders were conducted on the north and south sides of each floor, residents were able to safely maintain a physical distance. Many also had an opportunity to meet Rabbi Ezagui for the first time since he started working at Maimonides and Jewish Eldercare in February.

“Many people came to talk to me afterward and tell me about their own Passover memories,” Rabbi Ezagui recalls. “One man was crying throughout—but they were happy tears.”

At Jewish Eldercare’s two pavilions, volunteers helped celebrate Passover on each unit on the first weekend of the holiday. Along with Rabbi Ezagui, the volunteer “seder leaders” included a resident’s family member and Rabbi Barak Hetsroni, Chaplain of the Jewish General Hospital.

Josie Di Benedetto, Jewish Eldercare’s Coordinator of Therapeutic Leisure and Recreology, says it is nice to see “a little bit of normalcy” return to the centre in the form of seders and other activities. “It was a huge success,” Ms. Di Benedetto says. “The residents were so happy to see the new rabbi and they participated during the service.”

Rabbi Ezagui joined CIUSSS West-Central Montreal after working at Yaldei, a not-for-profit private school in Montreal for children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disability. He sees similarities in his interactions with the elderly, who are also able to “get a lot from a little,” he says.

Rabbi Ezagui emphasizes the importance of his teamwork with various departments, saying he wouldn’t have been able to provide seders for the residents without the help of staff—from the kitchen employees who prepare the seder plates to the nursing personnel who helped bring residents to the seders on their floors. He has begun meeting with various staff teams and he hopes to continue supporting employees whenever the need arises. With a background in education and chaplaincy, Rabbi Ezagui has studied around the world (Europe, Israel and the United States) and has a global vision for his new role in long-term care.

“I’m not here as just a rabbi for Jewish residents,” he explains. “I’m here for everyone.”