Herbert Hoover’s goal of “a chicken in every pot” was tame by comparison. The Chabad Lubavitch Organization wants to provide matzah this Passover for every Jewish man, woman and child in Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus, countries in which the baking of matzah had been forbidden for more than 50 years. Thanks to a unique partnership between Chabad and the B. Manischewitz Company, that goal will become a reality this Passover.
Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky is the director of Chabad Lubavitch of Lithuania and also that country’s chief (and only) rabbi, a position he has held for the past ten years. In 2003, Krinsky approached Armand Lindenbaum, the well known Jewish philanthropist and asked him to facilitate a donation of matzah from the B. Manischewitz Company, the world leader in matzah production, for the Jews of Lithuania. Manischewitz promptly agreed and offered Chabad 20,000 pounds of matzah, which was distributed by Rabbi Krinsky to the Jews in every major city and town in Lithuania. Even the five lone Jews living in Svencionys were not forgotten.
This year, the B. Manischewitz Company has tripled its donation and has slated 60,000 punds of matzah for the Jews of Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus. Sixty thousands pounds amounts to almost one million individual matzahs, (we did the math) and will guarantee that every Jew who so desires, can observe the mitzvah of eating matzah for the full eight days of Passover.
Steven Grossman the executive vice-president and CFO of Manischewitz, says he was very pleased with the community feedback and positive reception last year’s donation generated. “This is something we clearly were happy to participate in and it’s a project we have sought to continue on our own,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “It’s good to know that people who do not have the wherewithal will still have the ability to celebrate the holiday.”
Rabbi Krinsky, who operates a kosher soup kitchen in Vilna that feeds about 200 people per day, says that a large percentage of the Jews in these three countries still live below the poverty level. For most of them, the cost of imported matzah, at $6.00 per box when available, is very steep.
Matzah, central to the Passover observance, is eminently more than a holiday food for the Jews of the former Soviet Union. The baking of matzah was targeted by the Communists as a forbidden activity, precisely because of the precious place these simple unleavened wafers have in the heart of the Jew. Jewish history and lore is replete with poignant examples of the great and often painful lengths the ordinary Jew would go to obtain matzah clandestinely for the Passover Seder.
Rabbi Krinsky recalls that when he and his family arrived in Vilna ten years ago, it was shortly before the holiday of Purim. At the Purim party that he hastily arranged that year, a middle aged woman came over to him and asked “rabbi, what’s going to be with matzah for Pesach?”
“That question made a major impact on me” says Krinsky. “This community had been cut off from Judaism by Communism and by the Holocaust for over fifty years, and on Purim they were already thinking about matzah for Passover. As an American, I was used to the abundance of kosher food that didn’t require too much advance planning or sacrifice. The faith and perseverance of these Jews continues to be an inspiration to me and my family.”
“The impact of this generous donation from Manischewitz is therefore disproportionately greater in the minds and heart of our Jewish community” says Rabbi Krinsky “and the matzahs are received with love and reverence.”
Steven Grossman says that the donation also has sentimental echoes for the B. Manischewitz Company. “Our founder, Rabbi Dov Behr Manischewitz, was born in Lithuania and immigrated to Cincinnati in 1886. He started out by supplying matzah to newly arrived Jewish immigrants who were heading west to seek a new and better life in America. It was very important to Rabbi Manischewitz that every Jew, even those in transit, be provided with matzah at Passover. I am sure that he would feel that our partnership with Chabad in Lithuania is bringing his life’s work full circle.”