Special Seder resonates with Alzheimer’s patients


Selma Cohen, a resident of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, spoke and ate little at the home’s Passover Seder for Alzheimer’s patients on April 18. But once Rabbi Simon Hirschhorn began strumming his acoustic guitar and singing traditional songs for the holiday, she barely paused from happily humming next to her visiting daughter over the next hour.

It was one of many different ways the roughly half dozen residents responded to the upbeat ceremony by Rabbi Hirschhorn, the Hebrew Home’s director of religious services.

The affable rabbi started the afternoon off with a nod to the gripes the holidays can bring.

“I know there’s some people who dread the idea of Pesach (Hebrew for Passover) just because of the matzoh,” he joked. “But there is good news. There is matzoh on the market that is fortified with Metamucil. They sell it under the brand name, let my people go.”

Rabbi Hirschhorn went on to take the residents and their family members through the symbol-laden steps of a traditional Passover Seder, from the first cup of wine — substituted with grape juice for the day — to samples of bitter herbs and a blessing at the end of the meal.

Hebrew and English lyrics resounded the entire time, with the rabbi calling on two girls present with a resident to belt out some of the songs at the front of a spacious library where the Seder took place.

Hebrew Home resident Sabina Moss sang along for the choruses. Afterward, she simply followed the girls — her granddaughter and a friend — with her eyes as they walked back to their shared table.

While family members quietly chatted with their loved ones, whose Alzheimer’s ranged from the early stages to advanced forms, Rabbi Hirschhorn encouraged maximum audience participation.

After he called on resident Ruth Weinman to participate in a candle lighting ceremony, the 95-year-old beamed and giggled all the way from her table to the front of the room while a nurse pushed her wheelchair.

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