Passover began at sunset on March 29 and will continue until nightfall on April 5. It is celebrated by Jews all over the world to commemorate the Exodus, when Moses led the Israelites from bondage in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. It is a time eagerly anticipated by Jewish families who for 3,000 years have been celebrating this festival marking the birth of the Jewish people as a nation.
Unfortunately, there are thousands of families in Israel and the FSU who are in desperate need and do not have the resources to celebrate the Passover, let alone buy new clothes for their children. The elderly, many of them Holocaust survivors, must choose between heating their homes, buying medicine, or buying the special Passover food.
But thanks to the IFCJ's generous donors, thousands of food boxes with nutritious foods tailored to the traditional Passover supper, or seder meal, were distributed around the world.
In Moscow, for example, 15,000 packages were distributed to needy families, with another 28,000 food boxes delivered to other families throughout the former Soviet Union in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The boxes contain kosher products including an assortment of vegetables and canned fish, oil, milk and potato starch, as well as a special treat of beef and turkey salami from Israel.
"The reality for many of the elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union is having to make the horrible choice between buying food, medicine or heating oil for their homes," Rabbi Eckstein said. "They live in extreme poverty with no one to care for them. Some of these people have never experienced the Passover meal they so desperately long for as they live out the last days of their lives."
'Chance for a true celebration'
In Israel, pallets of packed food cartons have been delivered to distribution centers in Jerusalem and other cities where the need is greatest. With the assistance of Colel Chabad, the oldest continuous operating charity in Israel since the 18th century, IFCJ gave out 8,300 food boxes in the city of Ramle, and thousands more throughout Israel. Similar to the kosher foods distributed in Russia, each family received fresh produce, matzah (unleavened bread), canned food, salt, sugar, matzah flour, mayonnaise, wine, juice, cookies, and some chocolate, plus a $35 coupon to buy fresh meat and fish for the Passover holiday.
"The Bible teaches very clearly that those who bless Israel and the Jewish people will themselves be blessed," Rabbi Eckstein said. "Our generous donors, many of them Christians from the United States and around the world, have given thousands of needy Jews a chance to make this Passover holiday a true celebration."
Yaakov Ben-Yair, a middle-aged family man living in Ramle who was disabled following a car accident, was one of the many people who was ready to risk having his electricity turned off in order to provide a modest but joyous Passover holiday for his wife and three children. Thanks to IFCJ, he did not need to make that sacrifice. After receiving his Passover food box, Yaakov tearfully begged to send his blessings to all of IFCJ's friends and donors.
"On behalf of all the needy families in Israel who now have food for Passover, thank you for giving us our dignity back to celebrate the holiday," Yaakov said.
In addition to the food distribution project, IFCJ, together with the Jewish Agency for Israel, provided a seder meal to 5,000 Ethiopian immigrants still living in absorption centers, including 200 who just arrived last week. The program was led by Rabbi Eckstein and JAFI Chairman Natan Sharansky.