Nysha Recent News

Seders of the Highest Order: Pesach across Hamaspik Celebrated with Full Pageantry

Group Homes Mark Holiday Meals, Intermediate Days with Family Spirit and Fun

The Seders went off in perfect order.

That’s no surprise, given that “Seder” means “order”—and that the Seders in question were at Hamaspik, an agency that prides itself on managing all things in as perfect as possible a working order.

It was the culmination of weeks of painstaking planning and purchasing—runs on supermarkets, clothing stores and more from upstate Monroe to downstate Brooklyn.  But once the dust settled and the final pieces of cutlery were in place, what emerged were resplendent and silver-bedecked Seder tables fit for kings.

That’s exactly the way Seders are supposed to run in the first place—at least at residences for people with disabilities run by Hamaspik.

Fake fish, real Seder

Falshe fish, Yiddish for the mock gefilte fish made of meat by many come Passover, was one of the many treats cooked up by full-time cook and live-in Direct Support Professional (DSP) Mrs. Kupczyk, who together with Mr. Kupczyk call Hamaspik of Rockland County’s Wannamaker Briderheim their home and who, as such, led that group home’s Seder.

Besides the counterfeit seafood, Wannamaker’s seder also featured something (and something really good) for everyone’s personal tastes—compote for resident Avrumie, for example.  Freshly diced salad was also on hand, reports Home Manager Joel Horowitz—and, resident Nachman’s favorite, plenty of matzah.

But the main course of any Seder only comes in the middle of the Seder, as every Seder-goer knows.  First come the ritualized readings and symbolic samplings that mark the Seder’s primary first phase.

At Hamaspik of Rockland County’s exemplary Fosse Shvesterheim, run since its inception by a human perpetual-motion machine known as Mrs. Esty Landau, the Seder’s central “Four Questions” reading, a.k.a. the Mah Nishtanah, was recited by the entire resident body.

So were they recited by most of the gentlemen at Wannamaker.

With disabilities being what they are, not all residents at Hamaspik of Orange County’s Dinev Inzerheim ICF asked the Four Questions—but all were happy to be part of the Seder, reports a staff member at Hamaspik’s only Intermediate Care Facility. 

Likewise did the youthful residents of the Grandview Briderheim IRA, the Hamaspik of Rockland County group home with the youngest denizens, participate in their Seder as best they could, recounts Home Manager Joel Schnitzer.  Staff at that IRA involved them in the holiday to the extent possible, Mr. Schnitzer says, some asked some of the Questions (and some, the next day, even attended services at a local synagogue).

But at most of Hamaspik’s dozen-plus group homes, not only was the Mah Nishtanah recited at their Seders, but the kiddush blessings recited over wine (or grape juice), the karpas vegetable dipped in salt water, the drops of wine symbolically poured off, and the famously sharp marror horseradish eaten (at least in tolerable measures). 

As a matter of fact, amusedly reports a Concord Briderheim IRA staffer, it was the eye-watering, sinus-searing heat of raw horseradish that prompted Concord staff to replace that marror vegetable with the far-more-palatable leaves of romaine lettuce—but an enthused resident, remembering that people swallowing horseradish typically cough, proceeded to do so at the Seder while eating the decidedly non-sharp lettuce.

With the Seders being clan bonding exercises going back to Biblical times, what marked every Hamaspik group-home Seder, above all, was the sense of family. 

While every Hamaspik IRA resident and staff body forms a tight-knit, loving and warm family, that atmosphere was textbook-typified by Hamaspik of Orange County’s Seven Springs Shvesterheim.  At that residence, the live-in husband-and-wife DSP team hosted their own parents as most-welcome guests, with the senior father and mother functioning as grandfather figures and rounding out the air of tribal belonging that filled the dining room.

But if there’s one thing that distinguishes a group-home Seder from that of a typical family, it’s that most if not all of the residents—the child figures at the family Seder—are at the same developmental level, in contrast to a typical large family Seder marked by toddlers through teenagers, and their concomitant maturity levels.

“With disability, they all stay young,” points out Seven Springs Manager Mrs. Miriam Heilbrun, necessitating that all get equal attention from staff at the Seder.

Other than that, “they are really involved” at the Seder, Mrs. Heilbrun says.  “It’s like a real family Seder.”  And indeed it is.

On a Pesach trip

Monday, April 6, the first day of the holiday’s Chol Hamoed “Intermediate Days,” was a long and full day for the Wannamaker Briderheim, followed by a dark night in Warsaw.

That’s because “A Dark Night in Warsaw” was the name of the professionally-produced and hours-long play at Brooklyn College attended by the “Briderheimers” that Monday evening.

For the Forshay Briderheim, Hamaspik of Rockland County’s first group home, that first Chol Hamoed day was quite the long and tiringly satisfactory day, spent as it was at the Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park and safari in Jackson, New Jersey.

Being the first of Chol Hamoed’s four days, and a gloriously sunny one at that, the Forshay residents soaked up the temperate sun as they spent the entire day at the double park, enjoying not just several accessible rides and the animal-park drive-through but the live concert with Jewish singing star Benny Friedman, too.

Forshay enjoyed the second Chol Hamoed day the same way most other Hamaspik group homes did—with a grand trip to the Garden State Exhibit Center (see side bar).

For the Grandview Briderheim IRA, save its Hamaspik carnival outing to New Jersey, local was the word.  The first of the four intermediate days was spent at Monsey’s very own Manny Weldler Park and its spacious fields, while the third saw the “Briderheimers” joining the greater community at a massive outdoor carnival in a parking lot on the central Rt. 59 commercial artery.

At the 38th St. Shvesterheim, two groups of function-delineated residents enjoyed several different outings during the four Chol Hamoed days.  These included bowling, go-carting, a leisurely visit to Prospect Park, a trip to the Staten Island Zoo, Manhattan’s Sony Wonder Technology Lab and American Girl Doll store, and, let’s not forget, the grand Hamaspik family carnival.

Hamaspik of Orange County’s Bakertown Shvesterheim “step-down” IRA, so named for the step down in supervision needed for its high-functioning residents, enjoyed a trip to the Billy Beez kids venue in the Palisades Mall in Nanuet during Chol Hamoed.  Besides also going on the Hamaspik trip, they also visited the Turtleback Zoo in Essex, New Jersey.

The Seven Springs Shvesterheim, also of Hamaspik of Orange County, was not to be outdone on the Chol Hamoed action front—traveling all the way to Jersey City, New Jersey to visit the famous Liberty Science Center one day and joining Hamaspik at the carnival the other.

At the Dinev Inzerheim, the residents had a good time visiting a local lake, as well as an area memorial park, both of which feature healthy and stimulating outdoor natural grounds.

The Acres Briderheim, the only Hamaspik of Orange County men’s group home, took a trip each Chol Hamoed day, reports manager Mrs. Laufer—a petting zoo, the Hamaspik carnival and personal outings with staff members including go-carting.

The first Chol Hamoed day at the Concord Briderheim IRA, was enjoyed with a trip to the eclectic Space Farms in New Jersey, where the gentlemen were able to observe deer, bears and even lions getting fed.  They also went to the Catskill Game Farm in upstate New York. 

In like manner, the Fosse Shvesterheim kept its residents entertained and amused over the holiday’s middle days.  The “girls” there took in the Hamaspik grand outing on one day, enjoyed an interactive local slide-show event a second day, went shopping at local Judaica store Tuvia’s a third day and even thrilled to a live concert with ageless children’s entertainer Uncle Moishy.

“There were so many highlights!” says a Fosse staff member, asked for the holiday’s highlight at the home.  “We always gave them a choice—they decide what to do.  They pack for their trips. They’re involved.”

The spirit of the Seder

Asked whether the young men at Acres have a spiritual sense of any type that it’s Seder Night, whether they can express or communicate through their low function that they understand what “Pesach” and “Seder” is, Mrs. Laufer shares a moving anecdote.

Rabbi Lipa Laufer, who together with Mrs. Laufer has managed Acres for the past 15 years, keeps the personal custom of having each of his charges, to the best of their abilities, recite three specific words from the Haggadah, the liturgical text that guides the Seder.

According to the Haggadah itself, literally speaking those three words—“Pesach,” “matzah” and “maror”—constitutes the minimum observing of the Seder under halachah, or Jewish law. 

Rabbi Laufer thus makes his rounds of his Seder table each year, lovingly and patiently coaxing each young man to say “Pesach!”, “matzah!” and “maror!” as best they can.  With most being non-verbal, though, that best typically consists of various sounds or hand motions—indicating that they are responding to their loving caregiver.

One young man at Acres, however, does not speak at all, and is also disabled to the extent of not differentiating between night and day or between Shabbos/holidays and regular weekdays.  Over the past years, then, the gentleman has consistently not responded to Rabbi Laufer’s Seder-table rounds come Pesach to indicate any awareness of the holiday.

This year, however, when Rabbi Laufer called his name and was about to call out the three key words, the young man unexpectedly raised his hand and motioned with his fingers.  “After so many years,” Mrs. Laufer says, “he knew what we wanted.”

“The Seder itself is something you can’t write about,” says Mrs. Laufer.  “You see that the kids feel the kedishah [spirituality].”

“It’s a very high moment for them,” Mrs. Laufer concludes.  “Everyone in the house feels it.”

And at every group home making a Seder across Hamaspik, every resident and staff member feels it too.