When I was a kid, I’d often spend the Sunday before Passover with other yeshiva kids packing up boxes full of matzah, eggs, grape, juice, gefilte fish and other staples to help the needy observe Passover.
Unless consumed in very small quantities, and barring a Chanukah-style miracle, even a generous boxful does not last the entire eight days of the holiday. But it’s the idea that counts, and Jewish organizations know that for many recipients, the vast majority of them elderly immigrants, receiving these staples, together with Yizkor on major holidays, fasting on Yom Kippur and perhaps lighting a menorah, will be one of their few religious connections.
Through the wonderful efforts of Hillel Foundation at Brooklyn College, an institution that goes beyond serving college students and is a resource for the wider Jewish and non-Jewish community, my family for the past two years has been able to go beyond simply packing up the food to see the faces of the recipients by going door to door with deliveries. (Full disclosure: I am a Hillel board member).
And so it was that on Sunday my wife Jody and I rousted our crew of two teenagers and one adolescent at a far-too early hour, packed them into the minivan, loaded our cargo at the Hillel house and made our tour of Ocean Parkway, shlepping sacks of potatoes and jars of fish into apartment vestibules and creaky elevators and ultimately, with the exception of two or three wrong addresses or no-answers, into very grateful hands.
I wish I could say all members of my crew were eagerly enthusiastic about spending a beautiful Sunday engaged in free labor. It took some cajoling and the promise of a restaurant brunch at conclusion to grease the wheels of progress. But in short order I had a functioning, though text-messaging and iPod-connected operation, with Jody, plotting navigation and each kid taking turns with a package.
"Me, I am not so hungry," a Russian woman told us as she accepted the packages, probably meaning needy. "But at this time, I want to be connected with my people." If that didn’t encapsulate the whole experience, nothing could. At a later point, my nine-year old son declared "when I do a mitzvah I feel like a superhero." And so it was worth the cajoling and the expensive brunch.
Next week, when we sit down for the seder and say the words "let all who are hungry come and eat," they will be able to put a few grateful faces together with the words.