Six and a half years ago, my husband suffered a massive left-sided ischemic stroke. The stroke robbed him of almost all of his memory, including the Torah he had learned, the use of his right arm, caused him chronic pain and weakness in his right side, neuro-fatigue, and aphasia. While we quickly came to know what these words meant, we had no real idea of the implications they would have.

Aphasia is a language disorder caused by damage in a specific area of the brain that controls language. It can affect speech, reading, writing and comprehension.

Aphasia can rob a person of so much. For Eitan, things that most of us take for granted every day are so difficult, and the inability to express what he wants to say can be both frustrating and painful. There are many different types of aphasia. Eitan has Broca’s aphasia, which means that Eitan does have some words, but his speech output is difficult. He has trouble reading when there are many words on a page, and reading out loud is a struggle. Eitan is also challenged with writing, and communicating with others can be both frustrating, taxing and isolating.  

Since communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship, one of our biggest challenges has been navigating Eitan’s aphasia and its impact on his ability to communicate. This is true about interpersonal relationships, but also Eitan’s relationship with Judaism. So much of Judaism revolves around speech, language, and communication. According to Jewish tradition, God spoke the universe into existence. We have an “Oral” and “Written” Tradition, and much of our lives as Jews revolves around words (think about it, when we aren’t eating, we are praying, learning Torah, reading or schmoozing). This can sometimes lead a person challenged with aphasia or other language impairments to feel isolated or even embarrassed. 

We are currently approaching Pesach, a holiday defined by communication and storytelling, as we are commanded to “״,והגדת לבנך to tell over the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim to our children. One of the things that Eitan loved most before his stroke was the Seder. Eitan was “Mr. Seder.” He loved having all of our divrei Torah in a document before the Seder so that he knew what and when each of us would be sharing. Before the Seder, he would learn and write his notes all over the pages of his own Haggadah. 

After his stroke, Seder night brought with it a lot of triggers for Eitan, and it became so frustrating and painful. We knew that we needed to find a new way to include Eitan, and with the help and guidance of Rabbi Johnny Solomon, we produced a Haggadah supplement two years ago that incorporated thoughts and ideas from Eitan’s seder documents and notes written in his Haggadah. The language of the Eitan’s thoughts and ideas were condensed, simplified, and printed out in large text to make it more accessible for Eitan. Using this supplement, Eitan’s words were brought to life at our Seder table. Everyone around the table read aloud, and Eitan and I read as partners. Eitan was excited, interested, and eager to be a part of the experience, and not just sitting in isolation, watching from the outside. It was amazing to see how a little booklet could be so life changing. Thanks to the tremendous response to this supplement that we had shared with family and friends before the Seder, this year, we produced a full-sized Haggadah that includes Eitan’s thoughts and ideas of that supplement along with the voices of other contributors who face speech, language challenges. We also incorporated the words of different rabbis, rabbaniot, friends, speech pathologists, and the voices of those who can no longer be heard, such as Ari Fuld Hy”d and Maia Dee Hy”d, and it mentions the heroism of different heroes like Roey Weiser Hy”d, Uriel Peretz Hy”d and Eliraz Peretz Hy”d.

One poignant contribution of Eitan’s writing to the Haggadah is his message about “Moshe of Few Words”: 

“When Moshe was commanded by God to take the Jewish people out of Egypt, he said: ‘I am not a man of many words.’ However, tonight we read how Moshe led the Jewish people from slavery to freedom, which shows us that even with limited words, we can achieve great things.” 

Eitan’s words remind us that not only can someone achieve great things with only a few words, but that communication comes in many forms. This is wisdom that we can bring into all of our relationships, and especially our marriages, where our communication with our partner is constantly shifting and changing in so many different aspects of our lives, forcing us to think more deeply about how we can best communicate with our partner verbally, physically, and emotionally.

Not only was this Haggadah a labor of love, but working on it together strengthened our relationship and gave Eitan a renewed sense of confidence and purpose. We hope this Haggadah will help pave the way towards a Judaism that is more inclusive and understanding of those who have not had the chance to have their voices heard. The cover of our Haggadah depicts a lot of what Eitan feels at times: hidden. It is a reminder that we cannot always know what another person is going through, and what they might be unable to communicate to us. It is for this reason that we must all step up and learn what others are going through that one cannot see. This Pesach, may we be inspired by Eitan’s story to find ways to make our Seders and our communities more inclusive, and to foster healthy and meaningful communication in all of our relationships.