May 22, 2024
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May 22, 2024
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Pesach Is Coming: Let’s Talk About Family

Pesach is rapidly approaching and our community is buzzing with the excitement of planning and preparing for it. During this busy time, I’d like to address something which I believe is overlooked and not given enough attention to: family.

The holidays, and especially Pesach, revolve around family. There is an expectation that families get together, sometimes from far distances, to spend the holiday and share in the experience together. For many, these family holidays are the highlight of their year, and they can recall warm memories of sitting around the Seder table laughing, sharing stories and eating delicious food together. They experience the unity and bond that family, and only family, can offer. They anticipate the holidays and look forward to continuing long-standing family traditions.

The harsh reality is that there are many other people who have quite the opposite experience. Families are complex and no two families are the same. Families span across a wide spectrum in terms of size, functionality, communication style and overall healthiness. While no family is “perfect,” some homes are highly stressful, chaotic or even abusive. There are countless family situations and scenarios where a particular member not only does not look forward to holidays with family, but experiences fear and anxiety surrounding it. In dysfunctional or abusive homes, holidays can actually be the most stressful or traumatic times of year.

In our community, so many different people experience uncertainty during the holidays: an individual who isn’t married and knows they’ll be judged or disrespected by family members for it; an adult child who is no longer in contact with their family due to abuse that exists in their home; someone who experiences challenges surrounding their eating and weight and has been shamed or made uncomfortable by family members in the past; an individual recovering from alcohol dependency, who will be subjected to insensitivity and pressure at their family table.

These are only a few quick examples of people who loathe Pesach and other holidays, when a societal expectation is placed on them to be with family.

I’d like to suggest two things: Firstly, if you are someone who enjoys spending the holidays with family, or at least doesn’t find it to be unbearable, please try to see beyond what your version of normal is. While it may be a no-brainer for you to get together with family every Pesach, there are numerous people in our community who simply do not share that experience. They may be highly uncomfortable or unable to celebrate holidays with family. If you speak with or hear of someone expressing concerns or anxiety related to holiday planning and family, please refrain from judging them. On the contrary, if you have the ability to, extend an invitation to someone you know or may feel could benefit from a healthy, enjoyable Pesach experience. Please know that people and families are complex; we likely do not know the extent of the large possibilities of issues any given family may have.

Secondly, if you are in this cohort of people I’ve described who worry about Pesach and family, and even more so what other people will think of you, be bold. Do what you need to do in order to feel safety and enjoyment during the holidays. That might mean limiting how much of Pesach you spend with family, or experiencing it in a different country with a friend or deciding you’d like to stay at your own home and create new traditions. Do not feel ashamed or second class because spending Pesach with your family is not an option. Prioritizing your emotional health and personal space is more important than a few people raising an eyebrow when they hear how you are spending Pesach.

My most sincere hope is that our community broadens our awareness of how mental health and a plethora of other issues affect the way individuals relate to their families, especially when it comes to holidays. Let’s become more accepting and open-minded in nature. Let’s normalize making plans that cater to the unique and complex needs of each person.

Wishing you a chag, that above all else, is emotionally peaceful and safe no matter where you are and who you spend it with.


Josh Frank, LMSW, is a trauma-informed psychotherapist who works with clients experiencing various mental health issues. Josh and his wife Sarah are residents of Teaneck. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Instagram @therapy.with.josh for more mental health content.

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