Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Passover hampers help the vulnerable
The pre-Passover custom of Mois Chitim dates back thousands of years, but like many Judaic traditions, it remains relevant in contemporary times and is still practised today.
According to the Talmud, every Jew is obligated to proclaim the miracle of the exodus from Egypt during the Passover, or Pesach, holiday. This can only be accomplished if every Jew has the place and the provisions to celebrate the holiday.
Mois Chitim literally means wheat money.
In ancient times, a special Passover charity tax was collected from Jewish community members so that wheat could be purchased and distributed to the poor. This wheat was used for the baking of matzah, the flat unleavened bread traditionally eaten at the Passover Seder.
The Seder is the holiday feast at the beginning of the eight-day festival, which began this year at sunset on April 6. It is characterized by 15 ritualized stages, all of them focused on the concept of freedom.
Over the centuries, the term Mois Chitim has been used in a more general context to refer to the charity given to ensure that impoverished, remote, unwell and at-risk Jewish individuals and communities have access to matzah and other kosher for Passover provisions.
Many Jewish communities collect funds and food prior to the holiday and distribute these locally and around the world. For many years, the Canadian Jewish Congress oversaw a Mois Chitim project that sent thousands of kilograms of Passover food to the small, secluded Jewish community in Cuba. This project was recently incorporated into the Global Seder to Fight Hunger, a Toronto-based effort that also distributes Passover provisions to needy individuals in Israel and in the former Soviet Union, where there are large pockets of isolated and elderly Jews.
In Winnipeg, Jewish Child and Family Services (JCFS) has been collecting Mois Chitim for decades through its Passover Assistance program. The agency, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary, launches its annual Passover assistance campaign about a month before the holiday begins.
"As the social service arm of the Winnipeg Jewish community, we have assumed the responsibility of caring for the vulnerable among us," explains JCFS executive director Emily Shane. "We ensure that all have the means and opportunity to celebrate Passover. JCFS, as an established organization, has the capacity both to raise the funds and do the distribution."
This spring, the agency distributed about 160 Passover hampers in Winnipeg. These hampers, prepared and dispensed with the help of other community organizations, include boxes of matzah as well as other ingredients necessary to prepare all of the Seder's ceremonial foods.
The Mois Chitim program also makes it possible for those unable to prepare their own Seders to participate in one of several community Seders that take place in the city each year.
"By subsidizing community Seders, JCFS also ensures that people are not alone at this holiday when family and community is so important," Shane says.
Passover, after all, is meant to celebrate the collective freedom of all Jews, whether it is freedom from slavery thousands of years ago, or freedom from poverty, loneliness and hunger today. As it is stated in the Haggadah, the special text that is read aloud during the Seder, "all who are hungry let them enter and eat; all who are in need, let them come and celebrate Pesach."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2012 J13
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