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Sunday
May012016

MATZAH CAMPAIGNS & CHABAD IN CUBA

When Manischewitz agreed to sell Matzah at a loss * The Rashag convinced the Russian Government to lower the Matzah tax * Is the Joint Distribution Committee too soft on the Russians? * Cuban Government approves Chabad in Cuba? * In honor of the upcoming holiday of Pesach we present a collection of documents from the archives of the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) pertaining to Mivtzah Matzah in 1929, 1932, 1945, 1948, 1984 & 1985 * Pesach Special

The Mitzvah of eating Matzah on Pesach is the most important Mitzvah of the holiday, and as such, it ensuring that every Jew has Matzah has always been a priority for the Chabad Rebbes.
In honor of the upcoming holiday of Pesach we present a collection of documents from the archives of the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) (which were digitized and uploaded online, thanks to a grant from Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE).
These documents are a sampling of the communication pertaining the work of the Frierdiker Rebbe, and later the Rebbe, in harnessing the JDC to support the campaign of providing Matzah to Jews across the globe.
In today’s installment we will review some of the communication pertaining to Mivtzah Matzah in 1929, 1932, 1945, 1948, 1984 & 1985.
One of the most successful Matzah drives was in 1929, when the Frierdiker Rebbe sent thousands of pounds of Matzah to the Jews in Russia; this was documented thoroughly in the volumes of Igros Kodesh of the Frierdiker Rebbe. In this installment we present documentation from the point of view of the JDC with regards to this and other similar campaigns, including a program in the 80’s which sent Matzah to South America.
1929
Manischewitz Agrees To Lose Money on the Matzah
In a letter dated January 24, 1929 (13 Shvat 5689), Ms Evelyn Morrissey from the JDC writes to Dr. Cyrus Adler, a renowned professor and activist, with regards to this project:
In accordance with your request, I advised Dr. Rosen of the conversation which Dr. Zeitlin had with the representative of the Manischewitz firm in Cincinnati to the effect that that firm was willing to send matzoths to Russia at a loss.
Dr. Rosen stated that bulk shipment of matzoths could not be made to Russia. However, if some committee here, other than the Joint Distribution Committee, would be willing to buy these matzoths, or if the Manischewitz company would contribute a supply of matzoths; he would see what he could do after he returns to Russia with respect to the importation of these matzoths. Although he does not feel that the Joint Distribution Committee should have anything to do with the matter, he will take it up with the Jewish Community of Moscow if we advise him that the matzoths can be secured.
1932
The Rashag Convinces Russia to Lower The “Matzah Tax”
In preparation for Pesach 1932, the Frierdiker Rebbe planned to send Shmurah Flour, Shmurah Matzah and Meat to Russia which would be permitted according to Russian Law. In this letter dated December 28, 1931 (18 Tevet 5692), Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary, the Rashag, presents to Mr. Hyman from the JDC the plan of action along with a request for help, and a description of his activities with the Russian government to lower the Matzah Tax:
During my last stay in Berlin I have spoken with Dr. Rosen, who had lately returned from the U.S.A., about the necessity to assist the Jews in Russia for Passover. He told me that the Joint disposed now of very small means for this purpose and as, on the other side, Dr. Rosen is very well informed about the deplorable position of the Jews in Russia, he thought it necessary to induce the Central Relief to undertake an action of assistance for Passover. He told me even that he would also write you a letter on this account…
Now I beg to inform you about the possibilities of help for Passover:
1) There exists a legal possibility to send to Russia postparcels with Easter-flour with the full guarantee for their delivery. These parcels are cheap as the duty is not high at all.
2) Dr. Hildesheimer and I are endeavoring just now to obtain from the Soviet government a reduction of the duty on Matzahs; for this purpose we have, through the mediation of the Secretary of State, Mr. Weissmann, presented a petition to the Polpred in Berlin, Chintschug, and have asked him to reduce the duty on Matzahs. The duty on Matzahs has already been reduced from $2,20 to $1.20 per kg., but as it is still high enough, we have asked to allow a further reduction of the duty; but we do not yet know if we shall obtain it.
3) There exists a legal possibility to send to Russia postparcels with kosher meat, kosher fat, etc. Although postparcels with provisions have previously been sent to Russia, these postparcels were sent from relatives to relations and friends, but in the action, we are endeavoring to undertake, it will be the question of charity-parcels to the civil outcasts and especially to the religious representatives of the Jews…
JDC: We Have Been “Too Tender” on The Russians
The JDC made a decision not to support the Frierdiker Rebbe’s Matzah Drive of 1932, as stated in an internal letter sent to Dr. Cyrus Adler on January 29, 1932 (21 Shvat 5692), and claimed that a fundraising drive for Russian Jewry might jeopardize their own fundraising for American Jewry. The letter also included a draft response to the Frierdiker Rebbe stating their refusal to support the Matzah Drive.
When Dr. Adler received said letters he responded with a rather harsh letter addressed to Mr. Hyman, dated February 2, 1932 (25 Shvat 5692), decrying the soft stance the JDC is taking with regards to the plight of Russian Jewry:
I am afraid that I cannot take your point of view with regard to the correspondence with Rabbi Schneersohn and Rabbi Gourary. I can well understand that the JDC is opposed to a separate drive…
Moreover, it is not, as you say, up to Rabbi Teitelbaum and his associates, because I feel that it is up to me to do something to help the Jews in Russia to have matzoth for Passover. I am not disposed to take the attitude of complete surrender of all Jewish religious practice in Russia to the Soviets – whether they be Jewish Soviets or other Soviets. There is nothing illegal about the observance of Judaism in Russia, either on the part of elders or children. The only thing illegal is teaching children under the age of eighteen religion.
I believe that we have been much too tender with the Soviets and with the Jewish section of the Soviets for that matter. I for one would be glad to do anything I could for Judaism in Russia … I am not willing to continue to take the attitude that every vestige of Judaism shall be destroyed in Russia with our silence, which means assent.
…Had we shown more public concern about Judaism than we have, I think we would have got further. As it is, we always go about with bated breath and we always become afraid when we have anything very delicate to propose. These people are trying to defraud us of 6,600,000 rubles. They defrauded us by passing an ordinance and because we are trying to get $25 of it on the settlement we are afraid to help the Jews in Russia to eat matzoth…
1945
Flour for Russia via the “Palestine Branch” of Aguch
In 1945, the Frierdiker Rebbe dispatched a letter, dated January 2, 1945 (17 Teves 5705) to the JDC asking for help in paying for the Shmurah Flour that the Frierdiker Rebbe was planning on sending to Russia via the Chabad Chassidim who settled in Israel:
The Palestine Branch of the World Agudas Chasidei Chabad has rendered vital service and has been of invaluable aid to our brothers in the U.S.S.R. Our organization has succeeded in keeping alive the spark of Judaism in war-torn Europe by supplying the Jewish communities of the U.S.S.R. with religious articles e.g. Sidurim, Chumashim and other necessary Hebrew books.
Presently our Palestine Division is readying packages of “Shmurah” flour for Passover Matsohs to be sent to the U.S.S.R.
In order to carry out these important projects we shall need a substantial sum of money to cover the cost of those urgencies. As our organization finds itself low in funds at the present time, we deem it as requisite for the continuance of our work a minimum grant by your worthy Committee of $10.000.
In connection with the above matter I have asked my worthy son-in-law and First Vice-President of the Agudas Chasidei Chabad, Rabbi S. Gourary to visit at your offices together with a preminent committee. I trust you will discuss this matter with them fully and I offer the prayer that you will allocate to us the necessary funds to continue our sacred work.
1948
The Request for Hand Matzah for the Refugees in Italy
In 1948, after the conclusion of World War II, Jews were scattered around Europe in refugee camps, and the Frierdiker Rebbe appointed Rabbi Binyomin Eliyahu Gorodetzky as his personal emissary to ensure that all physical and spiritual needs of the refugees are met.
In a letter dated February 27, 1948 (17 Adar I, 5708) Rabbi Gorodetzky writes to Dr. Joseph Schwartz (JDC – Paris), complaining that the JDC refused to supply the Orthodox Jews with Shmura flour:
I send you a copy of a letter which I received from the Organization of orthodox refugees in Italy. They wrote that a part of the refugees (about 1000 persons), who are in Italy now on their way to Palestine, cannot get strictly kosher matzos. The JDC there refused to help them in this matter. It is connected with expenses necessary for baking round man-made matzos from special (Pesach’dike) flour. They wrote that the amount they needed is a small one.
Strictly kosher matzos has always been a matter of vital importance to the Orthodox Jews. I am sure you know that for religious people spiritual life is closely connected with the corporal life, and this refers especially to the matter of strictly kosher matzos, but all the orthodox refugees hope and wish your assistant-workers understand this as well as you do, or at least to bring this info life.
I am applying to you on behalf of the great spiritual leader of Jewry the Lubavitcher Rabbi J. Schneerson too, and I hope you will grant the request and order your representative in Italy to help these peoples as quickly as possible in the matter of baking such matzos they will be able to use. I thank you in advance.
A few days later, on March 3, 1948 (22 Adar I, 5708), the Frierdiker Rebbe himself wrote to Dr. Schwartz asking for his help in this matter:
I trust you have duly received my cable of today’s date, reading as follows:
I AM INFORMED BY REFUGEE COMMITTEE ITALY OF PLIGHT OF ONE THOUSAND ULTRA ORTHODOX REFUGEES NEEDING SHEMURAH MATZAH. IN VIEW JOINT POLICY TO SUPPORT RELIGIOUS REQUIREMENTS OF REFUGEES AND YOUR SYMPATHETIC UNDERSTANDING I BEG YOU TO, AND FEEL SURE YOU WILL, INSTRUCT JOINT REPRESENTATIVES ITALY TO MEET SITUATION. BLESSING.
The matter concerns, I understand, some one thousand refugees who recently arrived In Italy from Rumania and Hungary. Like numerous other strictly orthodox Jews, they do not eat machine-made Matzah, but only hand-made Shemurah Matzah, without which means being without Matzah on Pesach, G-d forbid.
I understand also that, given adequate assistance from the Joint, they could bake their own Matzah in Rome in conformity with their religious dictates and traditions.
I, therefore, reiterate my appeal to you to help these needy refugees. Knowing of your sympathetic understanding and appreciation of the principles involved, and of the general policy of the Joint to show consideration for the religious needs of the refugees, I feel certain that you will take immediate action in the matter, for time is of the essence.
I will appreciate your letting me know that action has been taken in the matter.
The JDC Agrees, and The Frierdiker Rebbe Thanks
On March 11, 1948 (30 Adar I 5708) the JDC responded to the Frierdiker Rebbe, acknowledging the letter and stating:
…We wish to advise you at this time that we have discussed this matter with our director for Italy and we want you to know that steps are being taken so as to enable the group in Italy to have Shemura Matzoth for Passover.
The Frierdiker Rebbe promptly responded with a warm letter of thanks, dated March 19, 1948 (8 Adar II 5708):
This will acknowledge with thanks receipt of your letter of March 11, 1948 … advising me that the matter of Shemurah Matzoth for the group of Orthodox refugees in Italy has been taken up with the Joint Director in that country, and that steps have been taken to enable the group to have Shemurah for Passover.
I was gratified to hear of the Joint’s prompt and favorable action in this matter, which once again goes to show the fine spirit of humanitarianism and sympathetic understanding for the religious needs of our needy brethren which permeates the work of the Joint.
Matzah, Wine
& Three Dollars
Once the JDC agreed in principle to provide the refugees with their needs, the Frierdiker Rebbe sent another letter to the JDC, detailing what the refugees needed. This letter, dated March 22, 1948 (11 Adar II 5708) was addressed to Dr. Joseph Schwartz:
My attention has been called by the Organization of Jewish Refugees in Italy to
a) The need of Passover assistance in the form of Matzoth and wine for Jews who otherwise do not normally burden the Joint with refugee aid, but who would remain without Matzoth and wine for Passover unless the Joint were to supply them with same;
b) The needs of the refugees in the camps and kibbutzim who, by reason of their strict adherence to our religious precepts, find themselves in especially difficult circumstances, which a minimum subvention of $3.00 per person for Passover could alleviate.
I am well aware of the policy of the Joint to support the religious requirements of our brethren in need, and of the sympathetic understanding which the Joint has shown in especially hard hit cases. I therefore feel confident that once again the Joint will take into consideration the urgent appeal of the refugee committee in Italy and extend to them a brotherly hand of timely assistance.
I shall greatly appreciate being advised as to what steps have been taken to meet the above mentioned request of the refugees.
On April 19, 1948 (10 Nissan 5708), Dr. Schwartz responded to the Frierdiker Rebbe, summarizing what steps they have taken to ensure that the refugees have their Pesach needs:
…You will be pleased to know that we have been in communication with our office in Italy and that the needs as outlined in your letter have been met.
All Jewish DPs whether in camps or not, whether receiving regular JDC relief or not, will receive Matzoth and Matzoh meal for Passover.
We have also allocated an amount for Shmura for those elements who insist on having that kind of Matzoth for the Passover Holidays.
We pass this on for your information so that you may be informed of the actual situation.
1984
Matzos for needy families in Europe & South America
After many years that the JDC was not directly involved in the Matzah campaigns of Lubavitch, in the early 80’s they make another appearance, dedicating a sum of money for Rabbi Gorodetzky to distribute Matzah to Shluchim in Europe and South America, who – in turn – distributed it to local needy families.
The following memo was written by a JDC worker, on February 16, 1984 (13 Adar I, 5744) detailing the money dedicated to the Lubavitch Matzah campaign:
After discussion with Ralph Goldman, Jerry Spitzer and Rabbi Gorodetsky, it has been agreed that JDC will provide to Lubavitch (through Rabbi Gorodetsky) $17,500 to cover cost of purchase and shipping of matzot to various countries in Europe and Latin America. Rabbi Gorodetsky states that the matzot will be provided to needy families. The money is to be taken from budget line SP/10-01 (1984). Rabbi Gorodetsky will inform us when he requires the funds. It is understood by him that this is the total amount of funds that will be made available for 1984.
1985
From Brazil to Cuba & Everywhere in Between
In 1985, the third year that the JDC sponsored Matzos for South America, the Shluchim sent letters of thanks to Rabbi Gorodetzky (which were meant to be shown to the JDC). The following letter was sent by Rabbi Shabsi Alpern, Shliach to S. Paulo, Brazil, dated May 1, 1985 (10 Iyar 5745), including a detailed description of where the Matzos were sent to:
I would like to thank you for your kind help in our receiving the Matzhos donated by the Joint Distribution Committee, Inc.
This year, the third consecutive year in which we have been receiving these Matzohs, produced some really astounding results, the description of which (even briefly) will surely please you.
The Matzohs were sent to the following places:
1. All major cities of Brazil, including such far off northern cities as Belem, Recife and Fortaleza. In these cities we mainly seek those families of a low income bracket or the truly poor.
2. Small towns in the interior of the State of S. Paulo.
3. One hundred and fifty poor families in our city of S. Paulo, which we attend and assist all year round on a weekly basis.
4. The special innovation of this year’s distribution program was a shipment of Matzohs to the Jews in Havana, Cuba, accompanied by a young Rabbi (Shlomo Levy) who spent eight emotionally packed days in Cuba.
Through a strong friendship with a Cuban diplomat, who visits Brazil, I received official permission for this special program.
The Rabbi was welcomed as a V.I.P. and highly successful. The highlight of his trip was the communal Seder in the Synagogue. The Cuban Minister of Religion invited him to a very warm hour long talk during which he said that Chabad may return always, open a small school in the Synagogue, etc. In fact in July we will again send some of our people there, but for a longer stay.
No words can thank you and the Joint for all you have done for us in this noble project. May I ask you to inquire if the Joint could kindly help us develop this Cuban project.
Brazil, Cuba,
Argentina, Chile
On May 20, 1985 (29 Iyar 5745), Rabbi Gorodetzky submitted his report to Dr. Sherwood Slater, the director of the Planning & Budget Committee of the JDC:
As promised, I am writing to you about the project in Latin America last Passover
You have received a letter from the Chief Rabbi of Rio de Janeiro expressing his gratitude to JDC on behalf of his community as well as in his own name for the Matzot shipped to them and which enabled so many needy families of his community to have strictly Kosher Matzot for Pesach.
In Sao Paulo our representatives have accomplished a truly fine job. They have distributed Matzot not only to some 150 needy families whom they assist all the year round but have also supplied Matzot to a number of small towns in the state of Sao Paulo. They have also sent and distributed Matzot to needy families in such far off northern cities as Belem, Recife and Fortaleza. Moreover, through the help of a Cuban diplomat in Sao Paulo our representatives have been able to obtain permission to send and distribute Matzot among the Jews of Havana and organize a communal Seder in the Synagogue of that city. In addition, the Rabbi who presided over the celebration of the Seder was invited to see the Minister of Religious affairs with whom he spoke for an hour and who told him that Chabad was welcome to open a small religious school in the building of the Synagogue.
In Argentina our representatives distributed 976 kg of Matzot among needy persons in Buenos Aires (126 kg through the Sholem-Aleichem School), and 1024 kg among needy persons in 12 provincial cities. Our representatives received a number of letters from people expressing their gratitude not only for the material assistance these Matzot represented to them but also for the opportunity which was offered to them for the first time in their life to eat Matzot on Pesach.
The reports we received from Chile concerning the distribution of Matzot are more or less identical to those received from Argentina and Brasil.
In conclusion, I believe that this Matzo Project is truly worthwhile and for which my organization and I are deeply grateful to JDC and to you.

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