On the first two nights of the eight-day Passover holiday, families and communities typically come together for a Seder meal. So when I heard that we would all be sheltering in place this year, I was concerned for the hundreds of people who would need to have the Seder meal in their home on their own.
I knew that there would be many who would be too overwhelmed to do it, or elderly and unable to gather the ingredients, newly observant, or young people who traditionally went to family for the celebration.
My husband and I, are part of the central office of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois. There are 50 centers throughout the state. Traditionally many of these Chabad houses host public seders with anywhere from 100-200 people in attendance. So I came up with an idea to provide everything needed for the seder meal in what we are calling “Seder-in-a-box.” We knew we would need to include handmade shmurah matzo, grape juice, seder instructions, and food for hundreds of people- we just needed to figure out how!
Many of our community centers reached out to their constituents to make this available to them. Chabad provided the handmade shmurah matzah, the Haggadah that we read that evening, and DIY seder instructions. This was all packed together with the meals which were purchased through Zelda’s Kosher Catering.
My husband Rabbi Baruch Epstein, Director of Community Outreach for Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois and Rabbi Yochanan Posner from Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie took the lead in organizing the logistical details, and there were many!! More than 900 orders needed to be recorded, transmitted, labeled, assembled, and delivered. My daughter, Mrs. Rivka Rapoport, who works with us in Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois, created an online system for people to signup to make their orders.
We also put together a Seder guide that people could print at home. The guide is dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Shalom Gurewicz, who passed away from COVID-19 last Shabbat (April 4, 2020). In Jewish tradition, any mitzvah, or good deed that a person does in memory of someone, helps their soul. We wanted this to be a comfort to Rabbi Gurewicz’s family.
There have been so many volunteers come out to help. It has been so well organized, with everyone wearing masks, gloves, and keeping safe distances. Those who are able to pick up their orders, drive up with their name posted on their car window and pop their trunk, and the food is placed in their car by the workers of Zelda’s Kosher Catering
Chabad arranged volunteers to deliver the food to the people who are unable to leave their homes. Those orders are left safely on the doorstep.
A few days ago, Chabad began receiving requests for seder meals from medical personnel who had been sent by the government to our state to help with the crisis. Chabad approached The Walder Foundation who generously agreed to sponsor those meals. We called Zelda’s Catering to see if they had the capacity to provide Pesach meals for these front-line workers as well. So we have been able to deliver “Seder-In-A-Box” meals to hotels and other places where medical professionals are staying so that they will be able to observe Passover as well.
This year, as never before, I believe G-d is giving us a message of empowerment. He is saying, “Be a leader in our own right’. If you are sheltering on your own, G-d will be at your seder cheering you on. You are now a leader of the seder rather than a participant of the seder. He wants you to have happy hearts, and joy in the midst of the crisis.
In Hebrew the word Tikvah means hope. It shares the same root as the word Kav, which means “a rope.” People feel hope when a rope is thrown to them… when someone is reaching out to them and they are not alone.
We don’t want anyone to feel alone in the midst of this pandemic. We want them to find hope in the community around them and the rope that is being thrown their way. Perhaps this will usher in a time of peace and goodness for the whole world.