Imagine baking matzah with chometz flour. For Jews living in the former Soviet Union and other communist countries during the 1950s, observing Pesach with kosher matzah and wine was virtually impossible. Although many did try to observe the yom tov properly, they were unable to because of the limited resources available to them. During that era there were instances in which well-intentioned but spiritually deprived Jews actually baked matzah with chometz ingredients.
Decades ago, Agudas Yisroel learned of their predicament. They recognized the need of the thousands of yidden stuck in the communist countries of the former Soviet Union. The organization mobilized volunteers who worked tirelessly to secretly send them matzah and other basic Pesach necessities, using humanitarian channels and Agudah contacts in Switzerland.
This gesture strengthened and gave hope to the Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain. And this is how Agudas Yisroel’s Overseas Passover Campaign – which brings the fundamental ingredients of a kosher Pesach to needy Jews around the world – began.
Over the years, as more and more Jews wished to observe the yom tov, demand for Pesach products grew. Today the Overseas Passover Campaign continues to fill a real need. “For Agudas Yisroel, the Overseas Passover Campaign is a sacred mission,” says Rabbi Shlomo Gertzulin, Agudah’s vice president for finance and administration, emeritus, who administered this campaign for many years. Campaign Chairman Avrohom Schonberger echoes this thought: “There are many organizations here in the United States which provide aniyei ircha with matzah and other Pesach necessities. We take care of those who seem to have been forgotten to ensure that all yidden have the opportunity to properly observe Pesach.”
Rabbi Gertzulin explains that the Overseas Passover Campaign has made a real difference in the lives of many Jews living abroad. “Over the years, our campaign has distributed millions of dollars of matzah, grape juice, and other Pesach products to tens of thousands of impoverished Jews who, even today, live in the former Soviet Union and in other countries once behind the Iron Curtain. The fall of communism brought thousands of Jews into the open, and reignited their hearts to observance of Yiddishkeit.”
Agudas Yisroel is grateful to work with some wonderful partners, organizations in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other countries, which distribute the supplies for the Agudah. “These organizations act as our shluchim; together we are able to help Jews keep Pesach,” says Rabbi Gertzulin.
Throughout the decades, Jews all over the world without the means to make the yom tov have struggled to keep a kosher Pesach. Agudas Yisroel was with these yidden when it was illegal to be Jewish in Soviet Russia; they were with them when open observance was possible but still required effort; and they are with them now when political and economic upheaval adds another layer of challenge to preparing for Pesach.