In a typical year, three thousand people in Great Britain flock to their local Chabad House to celebrate the Passover Seder. This year is anything but typical.
The COVID-19 pandemic during the days leading up to Passover challenges Chabad to help people throughout the world celebrate the holiday while sheltering in place, at home.
“This year, we are going to help thousands of people make their own Seder at home for the first time,” said Rabbi Bentzi Sudak, chief executive of Chabad-Lubavitch of the United Kingdom.
To help ensure that the do-it-yourself Seder is a beautiful and successful experience, Sudak and hundreds of other Chabad representatives will be distributing ready-made Seder kits prepared by Chabad on Call, a project of Merkos, Chabad’s educational division.
Attractively designed, the custom-made box features a Seder Guide, a Haggadah, a Seder plate placement, a kiddush cup, labeled containers for the Seder plate ingredients, and compartments for matzah and wine.
The template was created two years ago when Chabad on Call began providing Seder-to-Go kits to community leaders for distribution to homebound, hospitalized, or otherwise isolated individuals who could not attend a seder. Last year, 1500 kits were distributed.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, Chabad on Call sprang into action to ramp up the production of the kits to 8,000 in the U.S., and to assist in the production of more than 25,000 internationally.
“Experiencing a Passover Seder is a cornerstone of Jewish life. Our mission with this project is to ensure that every Jew has the ability to celebrate the holiday of freedom in a dignified and beautiful way, no matter how constricted their physical situation might be at the time,” said Chanie Goldberg, Director of Chabad on Call. “When this crisis arose, we already had the templates and know-how in place, so we were able to expand the project to serve the thousands of families who need it this year.”
To ensure that their kits are ready in time, Chabad representatives abroad are finding local sources for the boxes and food containers, and give the design files to local printers to produce the printed items.
Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus of Hallendale, Florida, oversees eight Chabad houses in a two-mile radius. Working with a team of volunteers, he now expects to provide at least 400 seniors with Seder kits.
The Chabad Passover kitchen in Sceaux, France, which usually supplies thousands of meals, could not open this year due to the pandemic. Instead, Rabbi Levi Mimoun, director of CTeen in France, is preparing 1,000 Seder-to-Go kits to be distributed to sixty Chabad community leaders. Even though he had to translate the materials into French, having the design templates made the process smoother.
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Goldberg, her assistant Zeesy Phillips, and a small cadre of volunteers and temporary hires gathered in the Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights to assemble eight thousand kits to be shipped to Chabad emissaries in the United States.
Requests for kits also came in from Australia, Cyprus, Denmark, England, Japan, Malta, Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and Ukraine.
“We want to be sure people in isolation don’t feel alone,” said Sudak. “They can’t go to synagogue, they can’t attend a Seder, they can’t have visitors. We have to act now to help people conduct an inspirational seder in the safety of their own home.”