The FSU goes all out for the Holiday of Freedom

In over 110 major cities and approximately 500 villages and towns across Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and seven additional countries in the former Soviet Union, the approach of Passover is creating great excitement. Preparations are underway for this major Jewish holiday celebrating freedom and liberty.

A tremendous amount of Matzah and wine is being distributed to families, the elderly, the sick and lonely and to any Jew within reach. The great effort pays off when a region of the world that so recently emerged from the darkness of the Soviet Regime and is currently undergoing an economic crisis celebrates freedom and unity with joy and happiness. Please join us as we take a sneak peek at the preparations for Passover in several cities across the region.

Odessa, Ukraine

Twelve tons of matzah are being distributed in Odessa, Ukraine. That is enough matzah to fill a large truck! In the recent Jewish revival in the FSU, the community of Odessa has grown by leaps and bounds. “We will be hosting 2,300 people in 12 locations over the first and second Seder nights,” shared Mrs. Chaya Wolf, this number does not include a significant amount of private Seders taking place in various homes. The effort that goes into organizing this holiday is enormous.

Every family in the city receives a kilo of Matzah. The children from the FJC’s Children’s home and Orphanage love going to visit the elderly in their homes, bringing them matzah and wine. Teenage girls from abroad come and volunteer over Passover, helping out with all of the various programs.

The FJC’s ’Or Avner’ Jewish elementary school children have a blast visiting the Model Matzah Bakery and making their very own matzah which they enjoy eating at their model Seders. The students that attend the Jewish University take part in various Passover themed art and music activities.

There are programs and classes that teach about the Passover laws and traditions as well as young Rabbis visiting homes and helping families prepare their kitchen for Passover. The effort pays off when the community leaders are able to take a moment and look at their community gathered around them enjoying a traditional Passover Seder experience with vigor and joy.

Tomsk, Siberia, Russia

The preparations for Passover begin months before it arrives. Rabbi Levi Kaminetzky from Tomsk, Siberia, Russia places his large order of Matzah at the beginning of winter. “It is of utmost importance to us that every Jew in our city will have matzah for Passover,” he said. As the holiday approaches, the city buzzes with excited activity.

Elderly members of the community as well as families with children will each get a box of matzah. The students that are part of the EuroStars program visit housebound elderly and sick people in their homes, bringing the warm feelings of community, connection and holiday joy along with their matzah and wine delivery.

The large communal Seder in the middle of Siberia will be packed with over 300 people. Families will come together with grandparents, aunts and cousins, sitting at a family table amongst community members. Students from the EuroStars program will sit together, sharing deep thoughts about the traditional Seder that are both timeless and relevant to their day to day lives.

Children will stand on their chairs, wearing brand new holiday clothing, and sing the words to ‘Mah Nishtanah’, bringing tears to the eyes of their grandparents who remember these words from their youth as well as many sitting there who are hearing these words for the first time.

Passover is a holiday where every home is open and welcoming to the less fortunate. The leaders of the community in Tomsk are making a huge effort to reach every Jew in their city this Passover.

Petersburg, Russia

Jews in Petersburg, Russia gather together to learn the laws of the Passover holiday. They study the timeless Passover Haggadah which tells the story of the Jewish nation’s exile in Egypt and their miraculous rescue. Many of those gathered clearly remember their own personal Egypt, when their home city of Petersburg was known as Leningrad and was the seat of the cruel and suffocating Soviet leadership.

Today in Petersburg, Jewish revival is at its best. Thousands of Jews are joining communal Seders and thousands of kilo’s of matzah are being distributed to the elderly and needy.

The local kosher market is stocked up with kosher for Passover products, making the observance of Passover more accessible to local Jews. Children in elementary schools are preparing for the Seder by learning the songs, stories and traditions at model seders. Several members of the community are taking part of the effort of preparing the synagogue for the holiday by cleaning it thoroughly, removing any traces of bread, which is not permitted over the holiday.

Looking at this city now, one would never guess that approximately 30 years ago there was no trace of Jewish life, for it had been obliterated by the Soviets. This is a testament to the perseverance of the Jewish people, no matter how hard they try, the nations of the world cannot crush their faith and pride.

Minsk, Belarus

Rabbi Shneur Deutsch, Rabbi of Minsk, Belarus, is not satisfied with making Passover only for his own community, “we send Passover products and representatives to lead Passover Seders in the small towns around Minsk such as Rechytsa, Gomel, Orsha, Barysaw and Mazyr.” These are towns where there are Jews but no organized Jewish community or leadership.

Within Minsk, Passover is a time for great celebration. There is a pre-Passover program filled with fun and educational activities for children. More than 120 children will attend. They will bake Matzahs and learn about the holiday in a stimulating and interactive way. While the children are learning and exploring, there will be workshops for their parents as well. The parents, most of whom have grown up without much exposure to their Jewish roots and traditions, learn how to prepare for Passover and conduct a Seder.

When Passover arrives, there will be three communal Seders for around 400 people. The first Seder will be geared towards children, the second towards adults and the third towards families, giving each age group a chance to have a wholesome Passover experience.

In addition to the programming, the community has invited thousands of Jews to come and collect boxes of matzah from the synagogue where it is being distributed.

When Friday evening, April 19, comes along, many thousands of Jews throughout the FSU will be decked out in their holiday finery, children will be wearing their new clothes that have been given to them through the FJC. They will be sitting together with their communities and families biting into the crispy matzah. As the Seder draws to a close, the voices will echo throughout the FSU, reciting the age-old adage of the longing of the Jewish nation to return to their homeland, “Next year in Jerusalem!”

Thousands of needy Jewish families across the former Soviet Union, the poorest Jewish community in the world, can’t afford to celebrate Passover with pride and dignity. They need our help – please donate with love!

Thank you! Wishing you a kosher and happy Passover!

They need our help – please donate with love


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