In a part of the world that was once home to a thriving Jewish community that was later decimated by Communism and Nazism, the sounds and ceremonies of the Passover seder will once again be experienced this year at the Orthodox Union’s Joseph K. Miller Torah Center in Kharkov, Ukraine.
In order to make the Passover program possible, the OU is conducting its annual fundraising drive, “Project Reunite’s Maot Chittim Passover Campaign.” (Project Reunite is the general fundraising drive of the OU to support the Kharkov Center.) “This is maot chittim (gifts of food for Passover) in the true sense of the word,” declared Norman Schmutter, Chair of the OU Kharkov Center Commission. “By sending matzoh we are enabling the Jews of Kharkov to experience Passover, some of them for the very first time.” The OU is conducting the campaign through direct mail, internet and telemarketing, Mr. Schmutter said, adding that thousands of families across the United States and Canada are being contacted to help make the fundraising effort a success.
“The OU established the Kharkov Center in 1990 to rebuild a Jewish community that was once one of the glories of the Jewish world,” declared OU President Stephen J. Savitsky. “The observance of Passover is a key part of the Kharkov Center’s year-round activities. The work of the Center enables hundreds of Ukrainian and Russian Jews of all ages to sit at a seder table and to personally experience the ‘outstretched arm, great awe, signs, and wonders’ (Deuteronomy 26:8) with which God brought us out of Egypt.”
Once again this year, the OU Kharkov Center, under the direction of Rabbi Shlomo Asraf, will conduct five different seders on each of the first two nights of the holiday, with an attendance totaling almost 1,000 people each evening. The first seder group, for parents, teachers, and other community members, will have close to 500 participants, according to Rabbi Asraf. Approximately 120 university students will attend their own seder, while around 150 teenagers, ages 12-18, will attend a third. A fourth seder will be held at the Center for children ages 6-12 who come with their parents, with an expected attendance of about fifty. In addition, the Center will offer a seder in a small community near Kharkov, with about 100 people expected to participate.
To accomplish this feat, more than one thousand pounds of matzah are being shipped from Kiev, while the rest of the Passover foods will come from Israel, both for the Center-run seders, as well as for distribution to families for use in their own homes.
“It is a highlight of the OU’s work to enable almost 1,000 Jews to celebrate the holiday of Passover,” added Mr. Schmutter, the Commission Chair. “It is thrilling to know that you have helped Jews experience Passover, when they themselves can so deeply identify with going from slavery to freedom. As it says in the opening lines of the Haggadah: ‘This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry – let him come and eat. Whoever is needy – let him come celebrate Passover! Now, we are here…now, we are slaves; next year may we be free people.’ Thanks to the work of the OU, the Jews of Kharkov and surrounding areas truly know what it means to be free.”