It is by all means, a massive undertaking, bold and ambitious in terms of scope and size, and, some might say, impractical. But hoping to reach greater numbers of Jews who would otherwise not celebrate the holiday, Chabad-Lubavitch has launched a Passover campaign that brought seders to Jewish people in some of the most remote places on earth.
Its famous seder in Kathmandu, with well over 1,800 guests, is now repeated in numerous locations around the world. More than 800 attended Chabad’s seder in Cusco, Peru, and 750 in Magnitogorsk, Russia. But they are not only large numbers that speak to Chabad’s Passover campaigns. In the tiny South Caribbean island of Granada, where Chabad-Lubavitch went the whole nine yards for a beautiful Passover Seder, there are no more than 60 Jews. In Mumbai, India, Chabad conducted a seder for 30 Jews. Among the exotic locations, Chabad-Lubavitch conducted Passover seders in India, Thailand, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, New Zealand, Chile, Spain, Ireland, Finland, Bulgaria, Romania to name just a few. This in addition to the seders held in all locations served by Chabad representatives worldwide.
After months of planning, several hundred Lubavitch rabbinical students were assigned destinations where they would be responsible for organizing and conducting communal seders. Given the stringent dietary laws of Passover, coupled with the inaccessibility to kosher products in these cities where there is no local rabbi and the nearest Jewish center can be thousands of miles away, every detail had to be considered well before Passover and large quantities of food and utensils were shipped ahead of time.
Weeks before the holiday, Lubavitch was shipping cases of wine and matzah to all parts of the world. According to reports from the main offices of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Former Soviet Union, in that region alone, 250,000 bottles of wine and six metric tons of matzah were distributed for the seders. According to some estimates, hundreds of tons of matzah, including more than 3.9 million hand-baked shmurah matzah and millions of holiday guides in 17 languages, were distributed worldwide by Lubavitch.
Featured here are just two of the regions reached by Chabad-Lubavitch this Passover.
RUSSIA: They flew 10 hours from New York to Moscow, and then boarded another plane for an eight-hour flight that would take them to one of the farthest points in Russia, near the China frontier.
Part of a team of 350 rabbinical students from the U.S., Israel and Europe who would reach more than 10,000 Jews dispersed in Russian cities, the two Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical students were on their way to make a seder for 130 Jews in the remote and isolated city of Blagoveschensk. They took quantities of matzah, marror, wine, and all the foods necessary to conduct an authentic seder.
Arriving about a week before Passover to their respective destinations—44 cities covering the length and breadth of Russia, among them Achinsk and Bratsk in Siberia, Balakova on the Volga, and Nakhodka on the Japanese Sea—the rabbinical students made contact with the heads of each of the respective Jewish communities. “We dispatched rabbinical students only to those cities that are not presently served by a Chabad-Lubavitch representative,” explained Rabbi Yoel Ganz who coordinated the program in the FSU. After securing a venue for the seder, the rabbis set to work. “Endless work,” says Ganz. The students scrubbed the kitchens spotless before koshering the ovens, appliances and pots and pans so that it would be fit to use for Passover. Then they began to prepare food—peeling huge quantities of potatoes, apples, grinding marror, and cooking all the traditional seder fare.
The seder itself was a first for many, and a trip down memory lane for others who vaguely recalled some of the Passover traditions. Guiding them through the seder rituals with Russian-language haggadahs, the rabbinical students created an inspirational and uplifting experience for the participants.
The $500,000.00 program—now in its eighth year and growing steadily—is sponsored jointly by George Rohr and Lev Leviev in conjunction with Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Lubavitch organization.
But this is only one part of Chabad’s Passover outreach programs in the region. In Moscow, where Chabad-Lubavitch has numerous institutions, 10 seders were conducted simultaneously in the Marina Roscha synagogue. Several more were held at another building nearby, so that some 2,600 Russian Jews participated at Moscow’s communal seders. Multiply that by the seders conducted in all of the Former Soviet Union’s major cities served by Chabad-Lubavitch, and it is fair to say that Russian Jews now have their own stake in this Festival of Freedom.
CENTRAL AFRICA: Eritrea and Namibia are exotic, remote, and don’t rank high on the map of Jewish demographics. But there are Jews in the Sub-Saharan African region, and no one knows this better than Rabbi Shlomo Bentolila, Chief Rabbi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Chabad-Lubavitch representative to Central Africa for the past 13 years.
Making the most of the human resources allocated to him this Passover by Lubavitch World Headquarters with a grant from the United Jewish Communities of Central Africa, Rabbi Bentolila assigned two rabbinical students each, respectively to: Abuja, Nigeria; Accra, Ghana; Luanda, Angola; Asmara, Eritrea; Kigali, Rwanda, and Windhoeck, Namibia. This in addition to a large communal Seder conducted by Rabbi Bentolila in The Congo’s capital of Kinshasa.
The students arrived well before Passover, allowing them time to launch Chabad’s popular model matzah bakery where Jewish children in each of these cities had the opportunity to bake their own matzah while learning about the traditions and history of the Festival.
The rabbis met with local Jewish residents and official representatives, while working out plans for the seders. The beautifully prepared communal seders drew an average of 150 guests each, among them Israeli ambassadors, expatriates and visiting businesspeople, many of who would otherwise not be sitting at a seder table, and, says Rabbi Bentolila after receiving calls and letters of thanks, were positively grateful for the experience.
Responding to the flow of reports pouring in at Lubavitch World Headquarters, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, noted that “it is extremely gratifying to see the incredible successes of the Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and installations around the globe, as the numbers of people reached grows almost exponentially from year to year.
“Yet, as the Rebbe has taught us, we must never lose sight of the ever existing challenges in this vital work, nor forget those of our brothers and sisters who have yet to be reached.”