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Preparing for Pesach by Delivering Boxes of Food and Love to Survivors

Volunteering and teaching and listening to Survivors is part of my spiritual preparation for the holidays.
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March 16, 2021
Pesach-Jewish easter. Feast in Passover. Matzah in gift leather chest with souvenir apples and rosesPhoto by flik47/Getty Images

This is a sacred time of year for me. I find great meaning in the weeks between Purim and Passover, not only because of the depth and richness of our traditions, but also because this is the season of my grandparents’ yahrzeits, the anniversaries of their deaths. Three out of my four grandparents’ yahrzeits fall between Purim and the end of Passover.

This annual cycle of yahrzeits, like studying the Torah itself, allows me time to reflect, remember and appreciate my grandparents each year. While they were loving, involved grandparents like others, there was a deeper meaning in their being. They were all Prevailers of the Shoah. They not only survived, they prevailed. They married again, moved to America, built families and passed down values that demanded responsibilities. When I looked in their eyes, I could always feel their love, warmth and optimistic hope for humanity, and I could always recognize that they had seen the darkest depths to which humanity could sink.

Growing up, every day was a Yom HaShoah of sorts. All of my grandparents’ friends were also Prevailers. My parents hosted Righteous Gentiles like Irene Opdyke in our home. They sat at our kitchen table and discussed their experiences during the Shoah. As a child, I heard about ghetto conditions, forest shootings and concentration camp experiences; I heard Opdyke explain how she gave herself as a mistress to a Nazi Officer in order to save Jews. And I thought all of this was normal. I believed that every Jewish child grew up with this kind of Sunday dinner conversation.

I have always felt personally responsible, along with my siblings and my cousins, to actively remember my grandparents and the approximately 200 members of my family who were murdered in the Shoah by Nazis and other Europeans. If you knew my grandparents, you would feel responsible as well.

I have talked about this many times at my congregation, Adat Shalom. In 2019, a favorite congregant, Eveline Ginzburg, asked me if I’d like to get involved with Café Europa. As one of the many branches of Jewish Family Service of LA, Café Europa offers supportive services and social connection to survivors of the Holocaust. There are approximately 125 Survivors remaining in Los Angeles who rely on Café Europa.

I began volunteering a couple of years ago. I have now spoken and blown Shofar at High Holiday programming before Rosh Hashanah and hosted a Yom HaShoah Program at my shul two years ago, in which we welcomed Violins of Hope to perform as well. For me, volunteering and teaching and listening to Survivors is part of my spiritual preparation for the holidays. Holding Prevailers’ hands and listening to the stories of their survival — and, of course, hearing about the incredible successes of their children and grandchildren — is like returning home. It feels familiar and warm, and meaningful and worthy.

Volunteering and teaching and listening to Survivors is part of my spiritual preparation for the holidays.

This year, at a Café Europa meeting, I asked what else we could do to help Survivors. During the pandemic, Café Europa has sent Shabbat packages home regularly to the community and created programming on Zoom to help the community of Survivors feel connected. As challenging as this time has been for us all, it has hit Survivors especially hard. Technology can be especially challenging for an older generation, limited visitation has caused loneliness, and end-of-life care has been challenging without usual support.

Under normal circumstances, shopping for Passover groceries is difficult. The 125 members of the Café Europa community had difficulty shopping for Passover last year and will again this year because of the challenges of COVID-19. So, this year, I’ve assured Café Europa that Adat Shalom will provide all 125 Survivors in the community with Passover essentials. Next week, each Prevailer of the Shoah will receive a box, and each box will include Kosher for Passover Matzah, grape juice, eggs, macaroons, turkey slices, gefilte fish, seltzer water, Matzah Ball mix, and so on. David Kagan, the owner of Western Kosher grocery store, has been integral in working with me to bring down the cost.

Delivery of food from Western Kosher waiting to be packed and delivered at Adat Shalom (pic by Nolan Lebovitz)

I was not prepared for the response. Within a week, there was an outpouring of financial support at Adat Shalom to pay for all 125 boxes. We also have enough volunteers to divide the groceries and pack all of the boxes. I want to thank the Board, the community, the donors, the volunteers and the staff for always supporting my ambitious ideas.

We’re helping Holocaust Survivors prepare for Passover because it’s what we should be doing as Jews. It’s because I believe that as a community, we can be more optimistic, more helpful, more generous — and that starts with our own family, within the Jewish community. To think that last year, as we scrambled to figure out Passover for ourselves, the most vulnerable members of our community suffered is a great disappointment.

At Passover, it is not enough for us to read about the Jewish people who experienced the redemption in antiquity; we must also care for the Jewish people who suffered and were redeemed in modernity. Now is an opportunity for that mitzvah.

I took much for granted as a child — my family, my upbringing, my education. But I never took caring for Survivors for granted. The DNA of those who perished and those who prevailed runs through my veins. The responsibility to remember and provide for those who sacrificed to rebuild our communal family rests on my shoulders.

I hope that Passover is enriched for all who participate in the mitzvah. I hope this program grows next year, and that with each box, the weight of Passover is alleviated for members of Café Europa.

Most of all, I hope my grandparents are watching. I hope they know how much I think of them and always love them.


Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz is the Rabbi at Adat Shalom in Los Angeles, directed the documentary “Roadmap Jerusalem” and is pursuing his PhD at Claremont Graduate University. 

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