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Mar262018

PREPARING FOR PESACH ON SHLICHUS

You work hard to prepare for Pesach. Have you ever thought about what its like to prepare to host hundreds of people, without a microphone, and all that food? When do the preparations begin (“the previous Motzaei Pesach”)? How are the Chabad hiddurim and chumros observed in places where people dont even know the basic laws of Pesach? * These questions and others were asked of four young shluchim in distant countries, who took time off between their busy activities to tell us how it works.

Shluchim of the Rebbe start their Pesach preparations long before the holiday, in the winter; especially for those shluchim in countries far from western civilization. In certain places, they even start preparing the day after Pesach is over. Arranging things is not easy because it’s not just a distant place where there is no kosher sh’chita or kosher food that can be bought in local stores; there are hundreds of guests! In many countries, the Rebbe’s shluchim are the only ones providing anything Jewish.

This entails complicated logistics. The shluchim have items flown or shipped in. This includes huge quantities of matza, wine, fish and meat and other holiday products so nothing will be lacking for any Jew who shows up for Pesach.

Beis Moshiach spoke with four young shluchim: Rabbi Eliyahu Chaviv of Ethiopia, Rabbi Dovid Attar of Nicaragua, Rabbi Shneur Zalman Kupchik of south Delhi, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Nisselevitch of S. Paulo, Brazil.

FIRST PESACH ON SHLICHUS

Tell us about your first Pesach on shlichus, please.

R’ Chaviv, Ethiopia: Our first Pesach coincided with our first foray on shlichus. When we wondered where to make the seder, I was reminded that when I was on shlichus in India, there were some backpackers who were surprised there was no Chabad House in Ethiopia. After receiving the Rebbe’s blessing, we decided to arrange a seder there. We decided that if things worked out well, we would ask the Rebbe for a bracha to remain there.

In the inquiries we made before we went, we got the email address of an Israeli tour guide who lives in Addis Ababa. We contacted him and he was happy to help us. Together with him, we made a list of products we had to bring with us.

As soon as we arrived, we rented a room in a hotel near where the tourists are and also close to the shul of the small Adenite community, the only shul in Ethiopia. Loaded with food for several days, we began to feel around and try to get to know the local players. The first days were very hard. A week before Pesach we were in Addis Ababa and nothing was ready except that we had informed every Israeli we met that we would be having a seder.

Where will it be? Who will prepare the food? We did not know!

When days passed and the food we had brought with us was starting to run out, we panicked and asked the Rebbe for a bracha. In the answer we opened to, the Rebbe responded by saying that with a shidduch, you need to search for it as though for a lost item. We understood this to mean that we had to make “physical vessels,” and the spiritual blessing would come.

From that point on, we saw Hashem’s providence nonstop. The first thing we looked for was a kitchen that could serve us for Pesach and throughout our stay in the city. We figured we could rent part of a kitchen which we would kasher.

In astonishing divine providence, when we met with the manager of one of the hotels and with desperate hand motions we tried explaining what we wanted, a close friend of his came in, the leader of the Adenite community, by the name of Sholom. He lived in England but came to Addis Ababa on business a few times a year. He also took care of his community. We soon saw that Sholom is a warmhearted Jew with a great desire to help. He was thrilled with the purpose of our coming and became our interpreter. Within minutes, he amazed us when he said he had managed to convince the manager to set aside an entire office for us to be turned into a kitchen. He also made sure that the lobby of the hotel would be given to us for free, where we would have the seder.

Within a few days, the hotel workers finished renovating the office and turning it into a kitchen. We bought lots of pots and utensils. We got a refrigerator from an Israeli woman who lives in the city; we bought an oven for a lot of money, and a tremendous amount of fruits and vegetables. Israelis are known as last minute people. On the eve of Pesach, several dozen more Israelis signed up and we had about 130 participants in all. The entire staff came from the Israeli embassy, as well as many tourists and people from the Adenite community. The latter wore expensive ties and sat next to backpackers wearing tourist attire.

R’ Dovid Attar, Nicaragua: Our first seder on shlichus was just three months after we arrived in the city. We went on shlichus on 10 Teves and realized then what a challenge we were facing when it came to Pesach. We wanted to use Pesach as a way of getting to know the local community. Most of the Jews live in Granada, half an hour from the capital city and this is why we decided to make a seder there. We knew that the tourists were more mobile and they would show up anywhere they were told. At that time, I knew no Spanish in a city where most Jews do not speak English.

I called Jewish families and in broken Spanish, I invited them to the seder. I named the bar/restaurant we had rented. Until today, they remind me of how poorly I spoke the language back then.

Hundreds of tourists came, and together with the local Jews we celebrated an especially moving Pesach that turned into an annual tradition.

R’ Shneur Zalman Kupchik, south Delhi: I made my first communal seder in India before I went on shlichus to Delhi. It was sixteen years ago, a few months after my parents went on shlichus to Poona, India. The evening began on the roof of the Chabad House and when it was filled up, my parents had to open another table inside. When even more people came, a third spontaneous seder started on the street.

You have to remember that in all of India that year, there were barely two communal s’darim, as compared to the close to twenty of today. My job was to stand on the second floor porch, listen to where they were up to at each seder and what was needed. I didn’t sit down to rest for a second. The running around ended with the conclusion of the public s’darim and the start of our family seder.

Years later, about a decade ago, I went with my friends, Elimelech Thaler and Motti Gromach, to make a seder on the Andaman Islands. It took three days to get there from 770 and included four flights and a ferry ride until we reached our destination a day and a half before Erev Pesach!

In that short period of time, we prepared for about 100 people who were surprised by three Chabadnikim landing there Erev the chag. We made the seder near the shore. The ke’ara was made of half a coconut decorated with seashells which our guests, the tourists, made. We all went to the beach to recite Hallel.

R’ Menachem Mendel Nisselevitch, S. Paulo: I don’t think I will ever forget the first Pesach we organized, four years ago. Shortly before Erev Pesach, the municipal government announced there wouldn’t be any water in the area that day. Of course, we planned ahead and filled big pots with water for all the cooking, hand-washing and other necessities. We were so organized that by the night of b’dikas chametz, everything was ready and we thought we could relax.

In the morning, we did a little shopping and when we returned we discovered an unpleasant surprise. A problem in a drainpipe caused sewage water to flood the whole house. I stood there in shock for a while. We thought there wouldn’t be any water and instead, we were flooded, but this was dirty water. We hired several local people and together with them, we bailed out the water and cleaned up right until Yom Tov.

The first year, few people signed up and we didn’t know how many would come. A few days before, the Israeli consul called and reserved a place for him and all the embassy employees, numbering dozens of Jews.

HOW DO THEY GET KOSHER FOOD?

How do you arrange to serve so many people and what challenges have you faced?

R’ Chaviv: The preparations begin months before. From Purim and on we send emails to all the embassies and invite the Jewish employees to contact us and join us for Pesach. There is a newspaper that is published by the American embassy and we make sure that an article is printed there inviting all Jews to come. Aside from that, we send the T’mimim who come and help us with the preparations to the airport, where they wait with signs in Hebrew and English when flights are coming in from Eretz Yisroel and the US, and people always go over to register with them.

In recent years, we are much more organized and we have a set place for the seder, but in the early years we faced serious hurdles. I remember that we paid a hall in advance for the seder. That morning, I went there with the food and saw a big event taking place there. I asked the manager what was going on and he didn’t understand the problem. “By 6:30 in the evening, when they start to arrive, this event will be over,” he said.

I panicked. We hired a lot of people so the place would be clean and kosher for Pesach. That year, I sat at the head of the table with my feet in a basin of water because of a burn I got during the preparations for Yom Tov.

We have a good friend, a local non-Jew named Alemayehu, who loves Jews. For two years now, we have been celebrating Pesach in his hotel. He gives us the events hall for free, believing that if Jews are there, it brings him blessing. This past year, he called three months in advance to make sure we wouldn’t go elsewhere. The only payment he asks for is a blessing.

We buy most of the basic products for Yom Tov right after Pesach, from dealers’ overstock in Eretz Yisroel, and store it here. What’s left for us to do before Pesach is just to import matzos and wine and to fill in with a few other things.

Since we have good connections with the service staff on Israeli airlines and with Israeli businessmen who come every month for a few days on business, most of them attend our seder and they happily bring with them whatever we need.

R’ Attar: For the past two years we imported large pallets of food products from Eretz Yisroel. The order is made after the previous Pesach. We cannot wait until Pesach stores open a few weeks before Yom Tov, because that will be too late for us. We fill in at a kosher store that opened in a neighboring country, Costa Rica. We order chocolate, coffee, and sweets from there so the tourists and locals can buy these kosher for Pesach products and won’t be tempted to buy food not acceptable for Pesach.

Despite our attempts and preparations way in advance, there will always be last minute glitches. Last year, for example, I ordered a large quantity of wine from the U.S. for us to use on Pesach and year round. Since it’s alcohol, customs gave us problems and things dragged on. A few days before Pesach I saw that we still had no wine and I had to prepare wine at the Chabad House for Yom Tov. Customs was willing to release the wine only after Pesach and we used it throughout the year. Unexpected things always happen and every year we anticipate them.

Another example – last year, we ordered chairs and tables from a local supplier and asked him to come the day before Erev Pesach, so that we could cover them with paper and plastic. I called at the time we had arranged but the supplier did not answer. I called again and again and there was no response. I naively thought his cell phone battery had run down but the next morning there was still no answer.


I was beside myself; the staff was waiting and there were still no chairs. Two hours before Yom Tov he arrived, totally relaxed and not understanding what the urgency was about. This is typical.

R’ Kupchik: Obviously, India is not Eretz Yisroel, not the U.S., and not Europe. We have nothing. We must arrange everything in advance. Before Purim this past year the first shipment for Pesach arrived: meat – Lubavitcher sh’chita, which came by way of a torturous process. Right after Purim we started working on how to get matzos and the other Pesach items we needed. We had already brought the wine the previous summer. Every time we make a trip during the year, we think about Pesach. Everything we need for Pesach is slowly collected throughout the year.

Last year, it was a little hard when our daughter was born a few days before Pesach. What can you do in a place like ours where the new mother is also the “Shifra” and the “Puah,” and there are four other little children at home? It was under these circumstances that we had to prepare for the communal seder, cooking, cleaning and organizing. We had nearly 100 people and my wife, four days after giving birth, was circulating to make sure everyone had a place to sit (which, by the way, she didn’t have).

R’ Nisselevitch: The preparations for Pesach start on Purim and even before. When we give out mishloach manos to mekuravim, we always ask where they plan on being for Pesach. We tell them about the seder at the Chabad House. There was someone this year who answered that he was making a “liberal seder” at home, where anyone could eat what he wanted. I explained the holiday to him until he was convinced to come to us. Every week more and more Israeli families are discovered who live here, some of them assimilated. The challenge is complicated but we don’t give up on any Jew.

I know most of the families from the Israeli consulate, where I am invited to every ceremony and event. For example, for the Memorial Day for IDF soldiers, I was invited to recite T’hillim. There, for the first time, I met an Israeli couple who came to live here. I got to talking to them and they refused to give me their phone number. I finally managed to convince the husband to give me his number just to send him a story with the parsha and he did not have to respond.

Every time I called, he did not respond, but I didn’t give up. One time, he answered by mistake and when he heard me invite him for a Shabbos meal, he tried to get out of it. But I was persistent and finally he and his wife agreed to come for a few minutes. When he arrived, he sat down and participated for a long time. He came to the Shabbos meal with security guards and that’s when I learned that he runs a large security company for Israel. His wife connected with my wife and they continued coming to events we made. He started to get really involved in his observance and his wife began learning the laws of family purity. This Pesach, they will join us.

THE FIFTH SON

You host many guests on Pesach, sometimes hundreds. How do you reach everyone?

R’ Chaviv: The first year, I realized there is a huge difference between Israelis and other Jews. Israelis are more traditional and are familiar with tradition. The others, less so. We divide the hall into two. In one half of the hall, we have a seder for Americans and Jews from other countries. This is run by English-speaking bachurim that we bring from the U.S. In the other part of the hall, we have a seder for Israelis which I run. For the children we arrange a corner of their own with games.

The ignorance is so great that in our second year here, afterward, we discovered biscuits in the children’s games. Since then, we announce clearly from the start, what is permitted to be brought in and what isn’t. Since there are English-speaking people who want to sit with Israelis, we found a special Hagada with Hebrew and English texts along with commentary. As far as customs, obviously, we cannot have every person do the customs he is accustomed to; we do what is done in Chabad and people are happy to sit together.

R’ Attar: Since we’re talking about, sometimes, hundreds of people, I have bachurim from 770 come, to help out. At the beginning of the evening, I make the important announcements and tell people what to expect. I also divide the tables by number. The bachurim are divided among the tables and help the participants understand where we are up to and what’s going on. I circulate among the tables and make sure everything is running properly. Every table reads a segment and we go from table to table, everyone excited to participate. It’s a tremendous experience.

In recent years, we came up with an idea that helps us a lot in maintaining “seder” at the seder. We found a Tequila that is kosher for Pesach and we make a competition among the tables; the table that is run in the most orderly fashion gets the bottle. You would be surprised to hear how even adults like to win a contest like this, and it is very helpful in maintaining focus and seriousness. During “Shulchan Orech” I go around to the tables and repeat a sicha from the Rebbe with the addition of a story.

R’ Kupchik: Every year, we think we won’t get such a big crowd because the community that we work with tends to arrange family s’darim. But every year, during the days before Pesach, we always get more and more people signing up and we have a fascinating seder with Jews from all over the world. Unfortunately, 90% of these Jews are assimilated and we also get non-Jews. Most of the participants belong in the category of the “fifth son,” which is why the way we run a seder is completely different.

I’ll give you an example. There is a Jewish woman from Eretz Yisroel who came to India forty years ago. She met a local non-Jew and they married, sad to say. They lived in Eretz Yisroel for four years and had three daughters and then returned to India. The daughters speak Hebrew but married local non-Jews. They and their children look typically Indian but they are Jews. The father is a travel agent. We heard about this family three years ago and persisted until we were able to get them to come to a seder and this year we hope they will come again.

As far as the seder itself, we get some Israeli families who want it run a certain way, that they are familiar with, but at the same time, we need to constantly translate from Hebrew to English for the guests who don’t speak Hebrew. We also need to be careful not to make it burdensome and drag it out with a lot of talking. The people are, for the most part, experiencing the first or second seder of their lives, and people don’t have the patience to wait so long. This is why we invite the Israeli families a half an hour before the others. This is because the other nationalities are punctual while the Israelis are late. This way, they all show up at the same time and we start without delay.

I usually have each one read a paragraph and I check things out. If I see that people are losing patience, I take charge and quickly read the rest. The interesting thing with us is that each one reads in his language: Russian, French, Spanish, Hebrew. This actually helps create a sense of cohesion and a strong feeling of brotherhood. In between paragraphs I intersperse brief Torah thoughts.

R’ Nisselevitch: The night of the seder I hardly sit. We have each person read a paragraph and there are paragraphs that we all recite together. I prepare short and easily grasped divrei Torah from the Rebbe’s teachings, but we make sure that Maggid does not go longer than half an hour. More than that becomes oppressive for people and they lose concentration. When we start, we make sure the food is nearby and the scent wafts over to us. We saw that this cultivates a feeling of anticipation.

FROM PUBLIC TO PRIVATE

This question is more personal. We are Lubavitchers and in Chabad we are extremely careful on Pesach. When you have so many people who don’t know the basic laws or customs, how do you manage to maintain the hiddurim you are used to from home?

R’ Chaviv: No question, this is one of the toughest challenges. There was one year when we sent the driver with the utensils to the kitchen and he put them down on the floor and we had to buy new ones.

We have separate utensils for family members, which we mark with string. We cook in these pots at the Chabad House without spices and with the hiddurim and chumros of Chabad. For everyone else, we cook without Chabad hiddurim. We try using a lot of disposable stuff. At the Kinus HaShluchim I bought a lot of nice disposable dishes for Pesach.

R’ Attar: It’s complicated. In the early years, we tried to maintain all the chumros, no spices, boiling the sugar, etc. But we saw that it was hard to do when preparing for such a large and varied crowd. I remember insane situations like hours spent peeling tomatoes, and the enormous staff cost a fortune. I spoke with some rabbanim and they paskened that there is no reason to apply the stringent policies we follow to our guests. In recent years, we are particular only for ourselves.

We prepare our food at home and bring it in our special pots from which the family and bachurim eat. For everyone else we cook on the premises with spices and without peeling.

R’ Kupchik: In the early years, we had no time to breathe Erev Yom Tov. The first night, we finished the public seder and sat down to our own and realized at “Shulchan Orech” that there were only hard-boiled eggs to eat. Now, we are more organized. We make the basics for everyone according to Chabad custom. The kitchen is a Chabad kitchen and we peel the vegetables, but over the years we learned that we must provide people what they are used to. We also get people from Sephardic backgrounds and we permit a limited use of spices for certain dishes, which we don’t eat from.

Among the Chabad hiddurim there are many gradations. We start by cooking some chickens for those who don’t eat food that was cooked on Pesach. Those who keep to this stringency have to eat primarily raw fruits and vegetables. For our family, we have a private seder after the public one ends. That’s when we take out food for our “Shulchan Orech.”

R’ Nisselevitch: We make a supreme effort and manage to keep all the practices we brought from home with the intention to preserve the full stringency of the holiday. At the same time, we make sure to have tasty food. The challenge is not so great. We prepare a large quantity of fried onions and tomato sauce and this improves the taste of the food. We don’t eat separately; we eat with everyone else. I tell our guests in advance, briefly about the stringent customs of Chabad and the rationale behind them and ask them not to bring food from home.

MOSHIACH MESSAGES

How do you convey the message of Moshiach on this holiday which is all about redemption?

R’ Chaviv: I use Hagados published by Mamo’sh. They did a great job and compiled ideas about Geula alongside each portion of the Hagada. During the seder, I add some quotes from the Rebbe on the topic, and at “Shulchan Orech,” as everyone eats, I repeat a sicha about Pesach with an emphasis on the topic of Geula.

R’ Attar: One could say that the entire seder and, in general, the entire holiday, revolves around Moshiach, with the climax being the Seudas Moshiach. At the Chabad House, we experience many miracles and wonders, so that people understand that there is a supernatural power that runs things here. The tourists hear miracle stories about answers from the Rebbe in the Igros Kodesh and divine providence, and understand that just as in those days, now too, we are waiting for the Geula.

I’ll tell you an interesting story. At the Seudas Moshiach last year, we were very anxious. We had to make the final payment for the property on which we wanted to build the mikva. The amount was tens of thousands of dollars and without the payment, the plans would go down the drain.

The broker came to us before the last days and announced that the day after Yom Tov was the final deadline. We sat at the Seudas Moshiach and I spoke about it and asked for a miracle. There were some guests there who came to us from Crown Heights and they committed, then and there, to a third of the amount. We already had another third, and the final third came miraculously the next morning. After I paid the full amount, I was astounded by how it all worked out miraculously, and it was a lot of money!

R’ Kupchik: That is not a very tough question when it is about Pesach; it’s the Chag Ha’Geula and there isn’t a single Jew who does not mention the Geula at the seder. We talk about it, about how the Geula wasn’t only in Egypt but will happen again.

We don’t lack for stories of personal redemption. We just met a young couple. She came to ask for matza for her mother. In both families, his and hers, the mother is Jewish and the father is Punjabi, and they were sure they were not Jewish. Of course, we explained that they are Jews and said they should learn about it. We gave matza not just for the mother but for them too. They were on their way to some temple and we asked them to eat the matza on the day of the holiday, in the hopes that the food of faith would wake up their neshamos.

R’ Nisselevitch: We constantly talk about Moshiach and the identity of Moshiach, all year, openly. We don’t wait for Pesach. I always see how talking about Moshiach only draws people closer. Throughout my years on shlichus here, there was only one person who was bothered by “Yechi.” He was a traditional Israeli who attended a farbrengen and literally mocked it all. I did not get into a debate with him; on the contrary, I was mekarev him. One Shabbos a few months later, he got up and spoke about the tremendous drawing close of hearts that the Rebbe wrought among the Jewish people, and he gave our Chabad House as an example and the various types of Jews who sat together. When he finished speaking, he began singing “Yechi,” and all followed.

During my shlichus I learned that Moshiach does not turn anyone off; the opposite.

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