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Harriet Berkal

Rabbi Louis Berkal

Harriet Berkal: The Passover Mitzvah

by Harriet Berkal, April 10, 2022

I’d be the first to admit that Passover is not one of my favourite holidays. I remember all the fuss around our house as a child, of changing the dishes and cleaning up the hametz.

My dad used to make a game out of it with my youngest brother and me. He’d make a paper fan and hide something like ten pieces of bread around the house, and we’d try and find them. There would be a monetary prize for each piece of bread found.

He’d gently guide the hametz onto a plastic container with his fan and the “SWEEP” was deemed complete. A ritual which was a fun way to start off the holiday, filled with too much starch.

There is one memory of my beloved father heading out to go conduct a Passover sedar for those who resided at Shalom Residences.[Shalom Residences  is a non-profit organization, which provides care and support, in community based homes for adults with intellectual disabilities in a Jewish milieu. (]

As a kid, I didn’t even know it existed. But my father’s actions spoke volumes to me, as yearly, he’d leave and set out to offer a seder to Shalom Residences. No, it wasn’t on the same night that we had our Passover gathering, so maybe that’s why it made it more notable to me.

I found out from my dad, that everyone deserved to enjoy the Jewish holidays. This demographic was special to him and that they held a warm place in his heart.

He’d come home and tell me how rewarding it was to spend time with those who sought to be as independent as they could be in the community. They would make him smile as he shared the practices of the service and sing along with him the various Passover songs.

The irony is that this holiday marks our freedom from slavery. It symbolizes our independence as Jews. Shalom Residences enables the people there to have the right to be full members of their community.( They live as adults free of their parents in group homes.

Members of the Jewish community can easily forget that there are those amongst us less fortunate and who deserve the acknowledgement that they too, are contributing members of our community.


With these past two years of Covid, I understand that many of the day programs at shalom Residences were cut or received less funding. Routine is extremely important to all of us as we live day- to-day. Having any part of that removed leaves a huge void in our lives.

So as much as I found the seders boring and dragging on way too long and, oh gosh, we’re doing this all again tomorrow night, the one thing I savour from Pesach, is the fact that my dad gave back.

He was a very special person indeed. He wasn’t assigned this task, but he took it upon himself, not as a burden, but as a pleasure.

Louis Berkal was always a welcomed guest there, to an audience of smiling residents who appreciated his efforts and his company.

He’d return home with a huge smile, knowing that he made a difference in the lives of others, too often forgotten in our community.

I believe we can do more for Shalom Residences in helping to provide more activities, such as song/art therapy and as the environment becomes safer as COVID declines, to utilize the skills of those who wish to be more involved in our society.

We should all have a compass of responsibility, which speaks to us the way it did to Louis Berkal. This demographic is made up of wonderful people who face challenges in many ways, but who also want to be included.

Let us each, in our own manner, help them, to live their fullest lives. We are all part of the same TRIBE. We all crossed that hot desert many millennia ago. All of us received the Ten Commandments, which form the basics of Jewish law. At times, we forget as humans to live our lives by them. Let us not forget those who warrant special attention and love.

Happy Passover to all!













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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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