Celebrating Purim & Passover: The Resilience of Soviet Jews

By Yelena Gerovich, New American Acculturation Program Coordinator

Today, as Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union, we freely and openly celebrate Jewish holidays. However, we remember and share with our children and grandchildren the challenges we faced before our move to America.

My childhood memories coincide with the memories of Moscow Jewish families striving to preserve Jewish traditions. My grandmother would start preparations long before the holiday. It was necessary to purchase sugar, flour, eggs, and poppy seeds. All those items were rationed, with a specific quantity allocated per family. One had to stand in line for each individual product, often for several hours. There was no guarantee that the product would not run out before your turn, leaving you to return home empty-handed and start the search for the needed product all over again.

How a grandma, tasked with crafting hamantaschen for her five married daughters, a dozen grandchildren, and her siblings, remains an enigma. The entire clan was responsible for acquiring the ingredients, yet the baking belonged solely to her. Then arose the delicate process of orchestrating clandestine exchanges of confections, navigating the labyrinth of who would traverse where and when to elude prying neighborly eyes. Jewish families in the former Soviet Union transformed their kitchens into secret confectioneries before Purim. The illicit thrill of celebration mingled as hamantaschen, those triangular symbols of Haman's defeat, took shape in the shadows. Those impromptu pastry chefs risked their careers to savor the sweet taste of tradition. The secret exchange of Purim sweets became an underground symphony of resilience, orchestrated by a community bound together by a shared determination to preserve their heritage against Soviet suppression.

Passover posed its own set of challenges. Matzah was not readily available in a society that sought to control every aspect of religious expression. Soviet Jews embarked on a covert mission, a pilgrimage through the labyrinth of restrictions to obtain the elusive matzah.

Connections were forged within the community—a network of hidden sources and secret transactions. The search for matzah became a testament to the resourcefulness and tenacity of a people determined to celebrate their freedom despite the oppressive shackles of the Soviet regime. The secret procurement of this sacred unleavened bread was not just an act of rebellion, but a profound affirmation of identity in the face of adversity.

The celebration of Purim and Passover under the watchful eyes of Soviet oppression is a testament to the spirit of a people who refused to forget Jewish traditions. In the secret exchanges of Purim sweets and the procurement of matzah, Soviet Jews wove a narrative of resistance.

Thanks to the support from the Jewish Federation, our New American Acculturation Program offers lectures, events, and joint celebrations. People with low income and our Holocaust survivors receive gifts for the holidays. Everyone has the opportunity to celebrate. Hamantaschen for Purim and matzah for Passover are available to everyone. We have overcome many obstacles, and our efforts have been rewarded. We celebrate, and once again, thank our community for all the help and support. Happy holidays!

The New American Acculturation Program provides educational classes, programs and holiday celebrations. For more information, including sponsorships of specific programs, please contact Yelena Gerovich at 203 387-2424x321, or email ygerovich@jewishnewhaven.org

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