Nobody is a Stranger: Seders with Refugees

Louise Wolf and her late husband, Alan, regularly hosted Russian refugees at their Passover Seders. It has become part of their family’s legacy.

Photography provided by Jewish Federation of Cincinnati


Every year at Passover, as we prepare for our Seders, we are reminded that nobody is a stranger. We are meant to make sure that everybody has a place at a table.

For many years, my late husband, Alan, and I hosted Russian emigrés for Passover Seders at our home. For many of these people, it was their first Seder, and we were thrilled to host them. However, on occasion, my children didn’t understand why these recently immigrated families were at our table.

More than 40 years later, I was pleased to hear one of my children speak about these inclusive Passover Seders in a eulogy for Alan, and how the Seders had made an impression on them.

I remember in my own family growing up, there was a constant flow of guests and foreign languages. My father, Rabbi Hyman Cohen, and my mother, Rebbetzin Beatrice Cohen, also helped immigrants settle in Cincinnati. Wherever there was unrest in the world, we had people from those countries in our house.

And I realize now that welcoming the stranger is part of my family’s legacy.

It is most fitting, as we recount the Passover story – which is above all about freedom – to sit with families who have just recently fled persecution.

Even if we couldn’t always communicate verbally, their fierce determination to make a better life was evident. I feel proud to have been a tiny part of that journey.

There were countless others in this city and around the country who were doing the same thing. I was especially humbled by the work of Harriet Geller, who coordinated furnishings and household items for these families before the organized program began at Jewish Family Service.

This tradition that we carry on, each in our own way – through our hospitality, our everyday actions, our giving – is essential to who we are as Jews. Alan and I always aimed to contribute generously.

As I watch my children and grandchildren take my place and give of their time and resources, I feel great comfort that Alan and I have given them a meaningful legacy.

After Alan’s 12-year battle with cancer, I am inspired to continue his legacy of giving to the community. We were both proud to set up a legacy commitment through the Jewish Federation to make sure that the institutions that we feel strongly about will continue after we are gone.

Like those dinners, I believe our legacy gift will send a message to our children about our values. And I hope my grandchildren, and even my great-grandchildren, will be hosting strangers at their Passover table.


Create Your Jewish Legacy is a program run by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, begun in the fall of 2014, to encourage legacy giving in the Jewish community. More than 650 Cincinnatians have made a legacy commitment in the past two years to the Jewish institutions that have helped them build Jewish meaning in their lives.


“This is the bread of affliction our forefathers ate in Egypt, but the fourth piece [of matzo] is the matzo of hope. When we observe this feast of freedom, we know that the Soviet Jews are not free ... Their crime is the desire to live as Jews with Jews in a free land ... We vow that once they are free we will help them rebuild their lives. We will not rest. No Jew is free until all Jews are free.” – Alan Wolf at a 1980 Passover Seder with Russian emigrés  (cited from front page of the Cincinnati Post, April 1, 1980)


The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati is located at 8499 Ridge Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236. For more information, call 513.985.1500, email or visit