by Rabbi Yaffe, Chabad of the Shoreline
This Saturday night (March 27) marks the beginning of Passover, the most widely-celebrated Jewish holiday in America. It celebrates the Jews’ liberation from Egyptian slavery and their embrace of a covenant with G-d 3,333 years ago. Jewish people commemorate this with the seder, a ritual feast that includes eating matzah (unleavened bread), drinking wine or grape juice, singing songs of praise to G-d, and reliving the exodus from Egypt through stories and discussion.
Last year, longtime kosher caterer Abel’s supplied over 500 seder meals to families in Greater New Haven stuck at home in the first “Covid Passover.” Covid also led to Abel’s closing a few months later, leaving a vacuum in the community. For this year’s Passover, Chabad has contracted with Mechy’s Gourmet of Brooklyn to offer traditional Passover four-course seder dinners with an entree choice of chicken or brisket. People can order at www.ctseder.com and choose a pickup location from Chabad centers Guilford, Hamden, Milford, downtown New Haven, Wallingford, or Westville.
Anyone who cannot afford to pay can choose the “pay what you can” option or even accept the seder meals as a gift. Rabbi Chanoch Weinberg (Chabad of Westville) explains: “People who are elderly, alone or food-insecure may be unable to prepare a seder on their own or afford to pay for one. Even those who scrape by during the year might be hesitant to ask for help with extra holiday expenses.”
Some members of the Jewish community are helping to sponsor those reduced or free meals. “Even if they can’t host guests for the holiday this year because of the pandemic, they can help ensure that everyone can enjoy a seder in their own homes,” says Rabbi Baruch Kaplan (Chabad of Wallingford).
Rabbi Sheya Hecht (Chabad of Orange/Woodbridge) sees a continuity of tradition: “Jewish communities have traditionally helped those in need with funds to celebrate the holidays. This year we continue the tradition and step up to the plate.”
Partially sponsoring this project is the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation’s Covid-19 Maimonides Response Fund. To date, according to Judy Alperin (Jewish Federation) and Lisa Stanger (Jewish Foundation), the fund has deployed over half a million dollars in emergency grants for critical needs such as food and rent. “Another holiday stands in the shadow of this pandemic,” says Alperin, “but we are grateful that this emergency response fund can help to provide seder meals and holiday spirit to community members in need.”
Chabad will also provide the ritual foods used on the ceremonial seder plate, plus wine, grape juice, hagaddahs (seder ritual books) and handmade shmurah matzah. “Shmurah is the Hebrew word for ‘guarded,’” explains Rabbi Moshe Hecht (Chabad of Hamden). “From the moment of harvest, the wheat in this matzah was guarded against contact with water, which could make the grain leavened (“chametz”) and thereby unfit for Passover use. Also, every step of this matzah’s production is done with the intent by the bakers that it be used to fulfill the Biblical commandment of eating matzah on the seder night.”
Not only will families be unable to celebrate together this year, but some will be making a seder for the first time. Rabbi Schneur Wilhelm (Chabad of Milford) emphasizes that we are all in this together. “We pray for the full and speedy recovery of everyone affected by this terrible virus,” he says. “We might each be in our own homes, but we are not alone. Faith, tradition, and community have never been more important. With G-d’s help, we will emerge from this pandemic even stronger than before.”