Matzah & Recovery: How is Passover like a 12-step Program?

Published Mar 25, 2013

nettieBy Nettie Faratci

As Passover approaches, many of us have started discussing our preparations for the holiday and contemplating the vast quantity of matzah that awaits us.  While we’ve spoken about the logistics of “spring cleaning” that are commonly associated with the holiday, I’ve also been thinking about the spiritual significance of Passover and how it relates to the work that I do with residents in recovery at N Street Village in Washington D.C.

What is matzah?  Essentially, it is flour and water that have not come into contact for more than 18 minutes.  There is nothing else to it.  Simple, no frills.  It remains true to its basic composition.  What does this mean for us, on the holiday that commemorates our exodus from Egypt, emergence into freedom, and the foundation of our establishment as the Jewish people?  As the saying goes, “You are what you eat.”

We ourselves are the matzah on Passover.  Through recounting our experience as slaves in Egypt, we are reminded of our vulnerability and simplicity.  The unleavened bread that we eat symbolizes our unleavened selves, stripping us down to our essential make-up and grounding us in our faith and relationship to God.  In this way, Passover not only consists of cleansing our physical surroundings, but also a spiritual cleanse.

This idea of spiritual cleansing resonates with me as I reflect a recent visit with AVODAH to the 801 East Men’s Shelter in Southeast Washington, DC.  While the first floor of the building functions as an overnight emergency shelter for homeless men, the second floor houses the organization’s structured drug recovery program, designed for a longer stay of approximately six months.  Learning about the recovery program particularly interested me because I work with the recovery residents at N Street Village on a daily basis.  Over the past six months, I have had the privilege of being a part of their journey, witnessing their triumphs and travails, and experiencing the innervating potency of their faith and spirit.  This faith and spirit has provided them with light in times of darkness; this faith and spirit continues to remain when all else falls away.  This is what fuels their personal exodus from an Egypt consisting of slavery to addiction and its life-changing ramifications.  This is their matzah.

The staff and clients at N Street Village commonly say that the 12-step program is a spiritual program.  This is conveyed by the particular steps that describe one’s need to surrender her will to a higher power, and furthermore, it is conveyed by how the program inspires people to change.  Recovery is about returning to your essence and reconnecting to the basics—physically removing the substances that convert the once-simple into the complex and spiritually tapping into the faith that empowers us to grow, learn, and pursue a better life.  This Passover, we are presented with a renewed opportunity as we pass the matzah around the seder table: to strengthen our essence, re-claim our identity, and emerge transformed.

Nettie Faratci is an AVODAH DC corps member at N Street Village.  She is originally from Chicago and attended Brandeis University

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