Rose Levit

Edward Izikson.jpgI would like to comment on the beauty and meaning of a wonderful tradition in our community: Ten years ago, the JRCC started delivering hand-made shmurah matzah before Passover to EVERY Jewish Russian-speaking family in Ontario whose address was on file. The package generally includes instructions for conducting the Passover Seder. The first year, in 2011, 5,000 packages were delivered; this year, over 12,000 Jewish families in our community throughout Ontario received shmurah matzah before Passover.

The process of making this special matzah is not simple or automated. It is monitored from the moment the grain ripens until the baking itself, which should take exactly eighteen minutes, not a second longer. It was made in Dnepropetrovsk, where Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, the father of the Rebbe, lived.

One of my vivid childhood memories is preparing for Passover in the town where we lived. My G‑d, what a revolution took place in the house before Passover! It all started with the window: the double frames were taken out, the old cotton wool lying between them was sent to the trash heap. The curtains were soaked in a large basin of warm water, which instantly turned black. It was always shocking to see that while it was hanging on the windows, it seemed so clean. And then it turns out that during the year so much dust was collected on the fabric!

"Yes," said my mother, "you can't see the dust, just as you can't see the dust that sometimes covers a person's soul." And, seeing my surprised face, she added: "The dust must be disposed of both from the inside and from the outside!” My mother was a philosopher, a philosopher by nature, or maybe she heard all this from my mother, my grandmother Rachel.

When the cleaning was over, my mother began to prepare food for the holiday.

Our town, Ashmyany, was located fifty kilometers from Vilnius. My parents went to Vilnius a week before Passover and brought a large package of matzah. We, the children, were told that these are “cookies,” and we will eat them all week instead of bread.

We were already used to the fact that our parents lived a double life to conceal their Jewish practices from the authorities, and that unnecessary questions should not be asked. During the day, my father read the newspaper Pravda or Izvestia, and at night, with closed doors and curtained windows, we listened to Voice of America, Radio Liberty, or broadcasts from Israel. Today I understand why many things were not explained to us. Teaching children Jewish customs and observing religious holidays was punishable by law, up to and including deprivation of parental rights. That is why we celebrated Jewish holidays without any explanation: you need to eat matzah, so eat and don't ask questions.

Today, more than forty years later, in the free country of Canada, we celebrate the Festival of our Freedom with the whole family. We have become truly free people! My grandchildren know very well about the Jewish holidays, they read the Passover Haggadah in Hebrew, and in addition to the Exodus from Egypt I tell them the family story of our Exodus. Shmurah matzah lies on the table. Its history goes back to the distant years, to another country.

Here is what our Rabbi, Rabbi Yoseph Zaltzman, told in one of our conversations:

“In 1935, the leader of the struggle for Jewish life in Russia was the father of our Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Schneerson, the chief rabbi of Yekaterinoslav-Dnepropetrovsk from 1909 to 1939, a man who was absolutely uncompromising in matters of faith. That year, Jewish communities in Europe ordered the Soviet Union to purchase Ukrainian kosher flour for Passover. At the same time, they set a condition that they would pay for the order only if Rabbi Levi Yitzhak from Dnepropetrovsk confirms that the flour is kosher. Officials contacted Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and told him to write a confirmation letter. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak replied that he would only do so if he was sure that the flour was kosher. He was told that the country could lose a lot of the much-needed currency. And Rabbi Levi Yitzchak said: 'You are forcing me to give false information!’ And left for Moscow to meet with Mikhail Kalinin. Hearing Rabbi Levik's story, Kalinin said: "You are right!" - and gave the order that the process of making flour was to be supervised by observant Jews. Thus, in that year, not only the Jews of Europe received kosher flour, but the Jews of the USSR also had kosher matzah for Passover. That year, Jews from all over the Soviet Union came to receive matzah from Dnepropetrovsk, and no one returned home emptyhanded.

In 1939, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak was arrested and sentenced to exile in the impoverished Kazakh village of Chili for five years. He did not live to see the end of his term. His wife, Rebbetsin Chana, writes in her diaries that he survived for the week of Passover on water and one package of matzah that he managed to smuggle with him.”

And today Dnepropetrovsk supplies the whole world with matzah! Thanks to the selfless work of the Lubavitcher Chassidim, we also received a box with matzah as a present this year. I would like to say a huge thank you to Rabbi and Rebbetsin Zaltzman and all the JRCC staff for the amazing work they do, which we often overlook or take for granted.