Build relationships, don’t prove points this Pesach, say mental health experts
PassoverStrategizing the seder

Build relationships, don’t prove points this Pesach, say mental health experts

The goal is to 'come back next year knowing that we love each other'

Bring people together and build relationships this Pesach. (Photo by shironosov via iStock)
Bring people together and build relationships this Pesach. (Photo by shironosov via iStock)

Passover is a time of questions. With Israel at war, political rifts at home and seemingly endless turmoil driving people apart, the biggest question may be: How do we sit together for a seder?

Holidays have a way of thrusting people into emotionally charged settings. Before entering these environments, however, it’s important to remember a few things, Stefanie Small, clinical director at JFCS, advised.

Whether it’s about Israel, the upcoming election or any other topic, “You don’t have to have the conversation,” Small said. “But if you do, you need to approach it from a place of love and not trying to convince anybody of anything. Data doesn’t actually help prove anything.”

Most people consider themselves rational. Despite such assessment, upon receiving new information human beings don’t necessarily change their views. Due to cognitive bias and the brain’s biology, people tend to reject opposing ideas, according to University of Connecticut researchers.

Still, humanity isn’t doomed to obstinacy. Mechanisms exist to “short-circuit these natural habits,” the researchers note. They suggest it’s important to “Try to form, and modify, your opinions based on evidence that is accurate, objective and verified.”

Exercising one’s mind on Passover requires a tasteful approach. Small recommends not being a “kochleffel,” or pot-stirrer.

“If you do want to have the conversation, and there’s a good chance that you might argue, make sure it’s not for entertainment value,” she said. “It needs to be a conversation, which means that you’re not pontificating and you’re not letting them pontificate.”

Similarly, pay attention to tone, what’s said, and be a listener, Small continued.

“Listening means actually paying attention to what the person is saying. Hearing their point of view, hearing their perspective. And then acknowledging that,” she said. “Listening isn’t biding your time until you get to say the next thing that you really, really want to say.”

Another important element is boundary setting. Maggie Feinstein, executive director of the 10.27 Healing Partnership, said: “You want to say what you do want, not what you don’t want.”

If the topic concerns the Israel-Hamas war, for example, before Passover one could say, “I’m really looking forward to being together for the holidays. And I am going to make a commitment to you that I am not going to try to convince you to see things my way as it comes to Israel and Gaza. But I am going to ask that you do the same for me,” Feinstein said.

Make ritual and tradition meaningful this year. (Photo by Eliya via Flickr at

Well-meaning parties can assemble, with all the right intentions, and problems may still arise.

“It’s so hard because we’ve all been in that situation,” Feinstein said. “If things start to spiral, check in with yourself, what options at that point you have to say. But in the end, really, I can’t emphasize enough that if you feel like you need to be right, or if you feel like somebody has to see it your way, then the conversation shouldn’t keep going — you should just let it end there.”

“At that moment, you have to stop,” Small said. “I don’t even care if it’s mid-sentence, mid-yelling, you stop in that moment because at that moment it went from a conversation to attacking, and that’s where harm comes in.”

Situations gone awry are unpleasant, but heated experiences are navigable.

Take a deep breath, count to 10 and tell the person, if it’s appropriate, “I love you, and I really think it’s a good idea for us to stop. Because then you’re emphasizing the part that ‘I have a relationship with you totally separate from this conversation,’” Small said.

It’s always important to remember that “none of us want to cause harm to each other, and even if you can’t stop yourself before it happens, you can slam on the brakes while it’s happening,” she added.

“If you say something that might be hurtful, or more personal or cut deeper, then always apologize and get out,” Feinstein said. “You don’t have to say you’re sorry for your opinion, but, ‘I’m sorry for bringing that up right now. I didn’t mean to say that that way. And we can talk about this another time.’”

With everything happening in the world, “there’s no sense that the Pesach table has to be where we solve these problems,” she said. “Life is long. Fortunately, there’ll be a lot of holiday tables, and we want to make ritual, tradition, that’s meaningful. We don’t want it to be just based on what’s going on right now.”

The ultimate goal is to “come back next year knowing that we love each other,” Feinstein added. “These are relationships that matter, and being right, or trying to prove your point, isn’t going to help those relationships in the long run.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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