According to one matzah vendor interviewed by Lubavitch.com, he sold 150,000 pounds of shmurahmatzah, or hand-made matzah, to Chabad Shluchim this year. Add another handful of matzah wholesalers who are doing similarly brisk business, and, at an average of six matzahs a pound, Shluchim are distributing well in excess of one million matzahs to their communities. The gallons of wine, the quantities of marror, not to mention the potatoes, fish and poultry –standard fare at every Chabad seder — is a brainteaser for any numbers buff.
Chabad’s Passover activities are comprehensive and far-reaching, with pre-Passover programs such as hands-on model matzah bakeries, Passover exhibits, shows and model seders designed to educate and fuel the Passover spirit among Jewish people worldwide. It is especially designed to ensure that every Jew participates at a Passover seder.
“The idea of bringing the fifth child—the one who does not even participate at the Seder—to the seder table,” says Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of the Lubavitch educational and social services divisions, “was a theme that the Rebbe had repeatedly talked about and that our Shluchim take as a personal challenge.”
Lubavitch is on a search for that fifth child. Indeed, one of the more intriguing aspects of Chabad’s Passover outreach program is the exotic locations where Chabad rabbinical students travel to find Jewish people who would otherwise not be at a Passover seder. Thus far, Lubavitch World Headquarters estimates that Chabad will be conducting about 4,000 plus communal seders worldwide. Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam is a new addition to an ever growing list that includes by now popular seders in Cyprus; in Lima and Cusco, Peru; Namibia, Angola, Kenya, the Ivory Coast, and Nigeria among other cities in Central Africa,, and in hundreds of other locations worldwide, including Beijing, China; Omsk, Siberia; and, well, New Jersey too.
“It is one of our most dramatic outreach initiatives,” says Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of the Lubavitch educational division and director of the Chabad Jewish Community Enrichment Program. “It is our goal to give Jewish people wherever they are, the opportunity to participate in the Passover seder, and I believe that the range and depth of our program, and the investment Chabad-Lubavitch makes in this regard, is a phenomenal achievement.”
The communal seders draw anywhere from 15 to as many as 2,000 guests, and are often held both consecutive nights of Passover. Months of planning with attention to details—specifically this year, when Passover falls on Saturday night, complicating the logistics somewhat—are necessary to pull off a seder for 1,000 with nary so much as a hiccup. In many places where people have come to anticipate the Chabad seder, immediate preparations—peeling potatoes, grinding the marror, mixing the charoset, and setting the tables, become a collective effort, with guests coming early in the day to help out.
Given an aerial view of the Chabad communal seders around the globe, the dispersion of the Jewish people would seem categorical indeed. But as people settle around the seder table, as the hagaddahs are opened and the first cup of wine is poured, an enthralling enthusiasm pervades the air. Matzah, marror, the four questions, a night of song and traditions shared by Jews from opposite poles drawn to the same table, makes the promise for the ingathering of exiles seem nearer . . . almost within reach.