A gaggle of teenage girls are packing up their sleek holiday skirts into small valises in anticipation of the Passover holiday. But they won’t be spending the Passover Seder meal slurping down their grandmother’s chicken soup or sunning at a popular European resort. They will be at school.
While other schools break for the Passover holiday, the Chabad of Vilnius’s Jewish day school, Beit Menachem, is planning to host 70 students for its sixth annual Passover Camp. It all began, said Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky, Chabad’s representative in Vilnius, when “one of the students raised her hand and said, ‘I’d like to keep a real Passover but my parents don’t have kosher for Passover food.” Other students chimed in that they’d be interested in experiencing a fully observant Passover, and Chabad’s Passover Camp was born.
The students, boys and girls, will be camping out in the school’s separate boys’ and girls’ dorms. Aside from holiday observances and prayer services, the students will enjoy a host of outings – all organized by Nechama Dina Krinsky, a Beit Menachem teacher and wife of Rabbi Krinsky. More surprises are still being planned, but one thing is for certain: the students will be chowing down on lots and lots of Manischewitz brand matzah.
For the third year running, RAB Food Group, owner of the famous B. Manischewitz Company, has shipped off tons of matzah to Vilinius. This year’s distribution weighed in at 30,000 pounds. Another 60 tons of Manischewitz matzah were dispatched to remote points across the globe from Ukraine to Argentina.
“The gift of matzah is given with the hope of helping Jewish people have a happy seder around the world,” said RAB’s Vice President of Marketing David Rossi. “Especially for those who cannot afford it or cannot buy it locally.”
The donation of matzahs to Chabad programs is Manischewitz’s largest annual matzah gift, according to Rossi. But there are no press releases from the RAB company and a thorough search of the Manischewitz website will find nary a mention of this philanthropic largess.
“It is really done for all the right reasons,” said Rossi. “It is not as though we are making a small donation of matzahs to get Jews to purchase our product in local stores. These matzahs aren’t sold in the places we are sending them to. It is simply something we feel good about doing.”
Passover came early for the Manischewitz matzahs. As others were shoveling out from under February’s snows, the Manischewitz matzahs were being packed on pallets for shipment to their distant ports of call. Jews in Vilna were thinking about Passover at an early date, too.
During Purim, all the way back in March, Rabbi Krinsky began getting the requests for matzahs. Passover holds a special place in the hearts of Vilnius’s Jewish community, which is comprised of descendants of Holocaust survivors and immigrants from neighboring Belarus. “People are very concerned about getting matzah,” he said. “In Soviet times, people baked matzah in secret. Getting caught would mean prison or worse. Now that there is freedom, they are very glad to have matzah, but they count on Chabad to make it available.”
With free matzah drawing Vilnius’s Jews to Chabad, Rabbi Krinsky makes the most of the opportunity to invite the community to partake in other Passover observances. Included with the matzah packages are guides to Passover and tickets to Chabad’s communal seders. Over 1,000 participants are expected at Chabad’s seders throughout Lithuania this year.
Feeding that many people is a challenge made even more complex because of the Jewish calendar. The first Seder meal will be served on Saturday night. Cooking on Saturday violates the laws of the Jewish Sabbath. All food will be prepared in Chabad of Vilna’s soup kitchen, which will continue to serve its daily 170 people and the Passover campers all throughout Passover, and then will be refrigerated in various halls across Lithuania. To help out, groups of rabbinical students will be flying in to Lithuania from Israel and the United States.
In today’s secular society, Passover remains on of the few holidays that Jews of all stripes celebrate. With the help of rabbinical students and a matzah making company from far, far away, Lithuania’s Jews will be keeping the traditions of their ancestors, too.