Dr. Heidi DuBois submitted this thoughtful reflection on volunteering at the Chaverim Shel Shalom Passover Seder in April. Chaverim Shel Shalom (Friends of Peace) is a social program for Jewish adults with psychiatric challenges that meets monthly.
During Passover 2019, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Chaverim Shel Shalom Seder. I did not know much about this seder prior to attending. Although I work with special needs children and teens as a pediatrician, I have little experience working with adults with mental illness. My background has prepared me to be comfortable around people of various ages with physical, intellectual and psychiatric differences. Therefore, I was surprised to find myself a little apprehensive prior to the seder.
A Beautiful Seder
My concerns quickly disappeared the moment I met the warm and welcoming staff who were busy setting up for the seder. I was so impressed with their dedication and commitment to creating a special seder for the guests. The staff certainly went the extra mile! Every table was beautifully set, complete with a seder plate, Haggadah and fresh flowers.
Once the service began, I was reminded of the universality of Jewish tradition, which bonded all of us in the room together as a community. The seder was traditional in many ways, but the Haggadah was modern and relevant, acknowledging the challenges of mental illness for individuals and their families.
A Community of Friends
Throughout the evening, I had the opportunity to meet several of the participants. Some had obvious mental health issues and others less so. Some were eager to share their background and others kept quiet. Almost all expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to participate in the seder. For most, this was the only seder they would attend.
Many of the participants at my table knew each other from previous events over the years. In a way, I was the “outsider” new to this community of friends. I couldn’t help thinking that aside from gatherings like this seder, individuals with mental illness feel like “outsiders” in the real world every day. In fact, one of the participants at my table expressed how hard it is to make friends like her.
I left the evening with a full heart, happy to have participated in such a wonderful event. I continue to be impressed by JF&CS and the breadth of services offered to those in need in Greater Boston. I look forward to volunteering at the Chaverim Shel Shalom Seder yearly in the future.
If you’re interested in getting involved with JF&CS, visit our Volunteering page!
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