When I was a kid, every Passover we had at least three seders: one with family friends, one with my mom’s side of the family, and one with my dad’s side of the family. Occasionally we went to a seder at a local Chabad Rabbi’s house. At at least two seders a year, there would be several bottles of wine on the kids’ table by the time I reached eight years-old. The first few years, I had a few sips, but by middle school my cousins and I were drinking more than the prescribed four cups of wine. When I look back at the family photos, we all have a bit too much rosiness to our cheeks and seem to be smiling extra big.
Looking at pictures on Facebook I can easily identify my last Passover using—a photo of me and two of my goyim friends holding up bottles of Maker’s Mark, Manishevitz, a toy frog, and a marble meant to symbolize hail, while we make funny faces. I didn’t go to an actual seder that year, although I’m sure I drank over four glasses of wine. I already missed enough school with hangovers, so I couldn’t go home and miss more classes, and I had long since abandoned my college’s Hillel, a social club for Jewish students providing services and social opportunities.
This year’s Passover will be different than all other years because I’ll be sober. I’ll actually be with Jews celebrating the holiday, and I’ll actually remember it the next day.
There are many sober options for Passover. Not only could an individual go to a normal seder and refrain from drinking, but there are also large public “sober seders” like one that will be led by the Chabad in Boca Raton, Florida. Rabbi Cohen, whose shul led the Sober Seder in L. A. in 2008, expressed the pertinence of the Passover story to a recovered addict. The Passover story and recovering addicts stories are about the same thing: overcoming oppression with the help of a higher power. Furthermore, Passover emphasizes gratitude, a virtue promoted throughout 12-step communities, with songs like “di ayno.” Another connection is that we eat the matza instead of bread to separate us from our ego. The bread is filled with hot air, like our head is when we are full of ego. In order to symbolically separate us from our ego, we eat matza. A lot of AA is about coming to terms with a more realistic sense of self, and, in the third step prayer, we pray, “Relieve me of the bondage of self.”
What can alcoholics and addicts do to ensure a safe and sober seder celebration? First, it is important and easy to replace all wine with grape juice. Furthermore, remember that most recipes for charosis, the chopped apple mixture representing the mortar the slaves used, includes wine that is not cooked out. This can easily be replaced with grape juice. One interesting recipe I like even suggests using orange juice. Check it out at http://www.jewishfood-list.com/recipes/pesach/klp_charoset/noalcoholcharoset01.html. Attending a sober seder has the advantage of removing the temptation to drink. If attending a normal seder where alcohol will be served, it is ideal to bring enough grape juice for yourself, either bring alcohol-free charoses or with stain from the charoses, and bring a sober friend or companion with you to hold you accountable and help you to withstand the likely triggers associated with the holiday.
Hag pesach sameach! Next year in Jerusalem, sober!