My Pesach BEHIND PRISON BARS
March 30, 2015
Beis Moshiach in #968, Pesach, Pesach, Stories

Thirty-eight years ago, like today, we lived in Afula. For Pesach 5736/1976 we planned to be with our parents which is why, although we cleaned the house, we did not kasher the kitchen. Instead, we packed our suitcases, shopped and were busy with Mivtza Matza.

On Yud-Alef Nissan, a few days before Yom Tov, the Rebbe farbrenged. The Rebbe spoke about Mivtza Matza along with an astounding chiddush. He asked that even those Jews who were in hospitals and prisons feel true freedom on Pesach. The Rebbe explained that sick people who are hospitalized are like prisoners, and as far as actual inmates, he asked that they be given a feeling of freedom to the extent possible in prison.

Who, if not the Rebbe, shepherd of Israel, is concerned about the freedom of criminals? If the Rebbe requested it, we had to see how to do it, for every instruction such as this was directed at us the shluchim, the hands and feet who carried out the shlichus of the head.

After consulting with Anash, we spoke to the prison administration of the prison near us about the possibility of making a seder with the inmates.

It was only Erev Pesach morning, after burning the chametz, that the prison commander called and said, “Permission is granted to host a couple in the prison.” They asked for two s’darim, one for inmates and one for the personnel and their families. He would set aside rooms for us to sleep in and a clean refrigerator, a Prison Service vehicle would come and get us before Yom Tov. Could we do it?

Oy! The kitchen wasn’t kashered and we had no kosher for Pesach products in the house. All the Pesach dishes were in locked closets. How could we undertake a project like this? But if the Rebbe asked, I was ready to do it, on one condition, that by one in the afternoon I had fish, chicken, eggs, lettuce, ingredients for charoses, vegetables for soup, matzos of course, and other basic items so I could prepare for the seder.

Where would I get it all from? The tiny Anash community was geographically scattered although otherwise united. We were “ein mishpacha.” It made no difference where my husband got the things from; we knew that each of the women would contribute from her supply so we could do this special shlichus of the Rebbe.

Our parents who received last minute notice of our absence were not thrilled. As Poilishe Chassidim they did not see why we had to be the ones to do this. They had already prepared everything for us and it really wasn’t proper. It wasn’t pleasant having to withstand the pressure.

Quite a bit after zero hour, my husband came home laden with Pesach ingredients. We immediately rolled up our sleeves and got to work.

I don’t recall another Erev Pesach as special as that one. We hadn’t known how quickly you can kasher a kitchen when every minute counts. Within a very short time the fish was clean and sliced and in the pot; the chicken was cooking and so were the rest of the basic ingredients, i.e. potatoes and more potatoes.

The official car of the Prison Service arrived and we loaded the pots that had just been taken off the fire, along with all the other things we needed for the baby, a suitcase, siddurim, Hagados, matzos, wine, bedding. We felt a little like the Jews leaving Egypt with their ninety donkeys each.

Minutes before Yom Tov began is when we arrived at the prison. We were welcomed by the guard and were assigned a warden who escorted us to the “guest rooms” which turned out to be the offices of the commander and his deputy where folding beds had been placed and where one room had the promised refrigerator. The offices were located in a building separate and far from where the inmates were housed. The senior warden filled us in on what would be happening. “For obvious reasons, women cannot walk around near the inmates. So, you (he said to me) will remain here in this building for the holiday and cannot leave. You can walk around freely with the baby in the hallways but that’s it. A guard will watch the building 24 hours during your stay here. As for the seder, of course you won’t be able to attend it. We are sorry but those are the rules. Chag Sameiach and if you need something, you can knock on the door and ask the guard.

He waited for us to unload everything and escorted my husband and brother-in-law to the dining room where the seder for the inmates would take place.

I was taken aback but being time to light candles did not allow me to think about the bizarre situation I had landed in. I decided to daven and instead of waiting for the men to return, I began setting up a seder for myself and the baby.

What usually takes hours at a festive table, took maybe half an hour with the bed serving as the table (I had no choice but to recline) including singing all the traditional songs. I ended up dozing off, feeling dizzy from the four cups and exhaustion. It was a Leil Shimurim with the Shomer Yisroel as well as my personal shomer who stood downstairs near the door.

Many hours passed and then I heard joyous voices in the room, the men folk were about to make the third seder of the evening, this time with a Shulchan Aruch that included warm fish and cold soup. I, who had already fulfilled my obligations of the mitzvos of the evening, half listened to their Kiddush and went back to sleep.

Early in the morning, the men went to daven with the inmates while I remained in the building, strolling back and forth with the baby carriage. A sand storm began which prevented me from getting some fresh air through the windows. Back to a short meal. The men used the rest of the day to speak to inmates and staff while I spent Yom Tov in an empty building by myself.

I was locked in but I felt the freedom that the Rebbe wished for every Jew. I had free choice and I overcame everything in order to do what the Rebbe wanted. It was all worth it. I deeply felt the Ashreinu.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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