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After trauma, a year of “firsts”

by Stefanie Small, Director, JFCS Counseling Services and JFCS Senior Services

The first year after a loss is referred to by many bereaved as “The Year of Firsts.” The first Thanksgiving without him. The first Chanukah without her. As each First comes, it causes a new sharp pain of grief, a reminder that our loved one is no longer with us.

Every person’s healing journey is unique; we each do our own mourning in our own way, in our own time. No one gets to tell us if we are “doing it right” or ‘doing it wrong;” it is ours to do. By the same token, we should not assume that we are taking too long or not taking enough time. Each person has their own path.

With Passover approaching, we know that the sharp grief will be returning. Seder is often a family event, with traditions in place for years and the same people playing their traditional roles. But this year roles may be different and therefore difficult.
We recommend that mourners not try to downplay it. Although the loved one may not be present, their presence is felt and there is no need to ignore it. Instead, acknowledge the person. Talk about what they used to do each Passover, what their role was, what they brought to the table, literally and figuratively. Don’t shy away from their favorite foods or beloved songs. Eat them, sing them, and hold them in your hearts.

And then you may want to take it one step further. You may want to do something to memorialize them and do some tzedakah (charity) and chesed (kindness) in their honor.

Marnie Fienberg has decided to do just that. Marnie’s mother-in-law Joyce was killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue last October 27th, so this will be her family’s “first” Passover. But out of this unimaginable sorrow has come an idea to honor her mother and bring hope and understanding to our communities.

Marnie started the 2forSeder: Pushing Back On Anti-Semitism with Love and Matzah initiative. 2forSeder asks families holding Passover Seders to invite two friends who have never attended a Seder to join them.

From the 2forSeder website: “We all ask – how can I help prevent this from happening again? What can I do? Each American and Jew can help take a small step toward fighting anti-Semitism by addressing the “mystery” of being Jewish….Opening your Seder to newcomers directly addresses biased attitudes and general ignorance – the seed of all anti-Semitism. Start a dialogue and create a ripple-effect to enrich our shared American experience. If a thousand of us take a small step together, we will make a real impact.

If you can participate, as Host or Guest, know that you are connected to Pittsburgh through bonds of love and matzah. Raise a glass to all our fallen and never forget.”

As of April 15th, there are more than 600 participating Seders. Pittsburgh is in the lead! Click here to visit the 2forSeder website for more information and/or sign up. May we all be blessed with a healthy and meaningful Passover.

If you need help, JFCS is here. Visit our community support webpage, or call 412-422-7200.

Photo: Joyce Fienberg, mother-in-law of Marnie Fienberg, and victim of the Tree of Life shooting on October 27th.