For some immigrants, Pessah means loneliness

With little more than a week to go before Pessah, feelings of loneliness for new immigrants here without their families often become more exaggerated.

seder plate 88 (photo credit: )
seder plate 88
(photo credit: )
With little more than a week to go before Pessah, feelings of loneliness for new immigrants here without their families often become more exaggerated, say experts working for immigrant groups. "When people sit for the first time at a Seder table that is not their own or is not what they are used to at home, it can certainly be a difficult moment," says Josie Arbel, director of Absorption Services at the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI). "It's a time when people without large social networks here are reminded of that fact." "I remember when I was first here as a student sitting down to the Seder with good friends that I knew very well and suddenly feeling very foreign, a little bit sad and a little lost," she recalls, adding that like the Christmas holiday period in the US, "there are reminders everywhere that we are supposed to be with family at this time of year." For US immigrant Michael Mashbaum, who is set to mark his fourth Pessah in Israel this year, that feeling of loneliness is still fairly strong. "This year my family is coming [from the US]," he says. "But if I thought that I was going to be on my own, then I would have definitely traveled back home for Pessah." The 28-year-old, who spent his first few years here as a lone soldier serving in the IDF, recalls spending previous Seders with friends' families. "[Loneliness] is definitely something that I experienced," says Mashbaum, adding "It's always much nicer to spend the holidays eating home-cooked food and with the ambience of being in a family setting." While Batel Meshel, 27, who made aliya four years ago, would never want to leave Israel for Pessah, it is a time when she thinks about her own family's way of celebrating the holiday. "At my first Seder [in Israel] I reminisced a lot about how we did things back home," says the California resident who is now studying in Israel. "My mother is an early childhood educator and she would always make sure the Seder was directed towards the children, even when we were all grown up." Meshel adds, however, that although she has no biological relatives here "we have created our own family" among friends who are also in Israel alone. This year she plans to participate in a communal Seder at the Jerusalem Soul Center, which holds events for younger people who have made aliya or are considering it. "I think in many cases here, especially for new immigrants, friends become a sort of surrogate family," observes Mashbaum. "[These feelings of loneliness] are not unique to Pessah," says Tzvi Richter, director of social services at aliya organization Nefesh B'Nefesh. "As much as the holidays in Israel are a very special time, they also are a time that reminds people here alone of their own families." However, he adds, the organization's counseling services for new immigrants does not see a significant rise in requests for assistance at this time of the year. As for people spending the Seder completely alone, Arbel says that the AACI handles a few requests for "match-making" ahead of the holiday. "However, we do find in most cases that the supportive networks [in our community] do reach out to people who are totally alone," she says.