“IN THE SPIRIT OF PASSOVER” by Fern Sidman

As the bustling streets of Boro Park reverberated with the sights and sounds of those preparing to usher in the holiday of Passover, our minds inevitably turn to those who simply cannot afford to buy kosher for Passover food or those who are bereft of family to spend the Sedorim with. As he has been doing for close to 50 years, Rabbi Chaim Prussman of Brooklyn’s Beth Shifra has stepped up to the plate to fill this painful void by making it his priority that no Jew would go without being fed, clothed and educated in this Passover season.

On Erev Pesach, as the tractor trailers filled with kosher food including matzos, wine, gefilte fish, chicken, fruits and vegetables, cakes and candies pulled up to the venue of Georgie’s Wigs on 16th Avenue and 45th Street in Boro Park, the stoic volunteers of Beth Shifra stood ready to distribute free food packages to all those in need. This year, in the midst of the economic crisis that has engulfed the nation, the staggering numbers of those waiting to receive provisions spoke volumes.

“Normally we have significant numbers of people waiting at our door on Erev Pesach to receive our free food packages”, said Rabbi Prussman. Taking note of the adverse affects of the financial meltdown, he said, “This year we witnessed a record number of people; at least five times as many in previous years. And that includes entire families and people who had never needed help before in acquiring food for Pesach”, he ruefully observed.

As in years past, Rabbi Prussman and his volunteer staff provided not only the free Sedorim but also played host to those who found themselves in need of free meals for the entire eight days of Passover. “No one goes hungry around here”, said Ariel Kahan, a participant at the Sedorim. “In these hard times, we are exceptionally blessed to have a place like this to come to. A very special place where no one is judged and everyone is so warmly welcomed”, he said.

Leading the Sedorim for several hundred at Georgie’s were noted local attorney and community activist Rabbi Shmuel (Steven L.) Gershbein, along with the assistance of Rabbi Alec Goldstein, David Speyer and Tuvia Ben Shmuel-Yosef. “The educational aspect of our Passover program has always been of paramount importance to us” said Rabbi Prussman, adding that, “feeding the Jewish body is not enough, we must also feed the Jewish soul with words of Torah and inspiration”. As such, this year’s program included special Aish HaTorah Discovery seminars during Chol HaMoed that drew the attendance of people from all over New York City..

The daily Torah lectures on the meaning of Passover and other timely subjects were held both day and night and were led by the esteemed scholar, Rabbi Alexander Zeesha Guth. Rabbi Guth also holds the distinction of being the only strictly Orthodox luthier (a maker of stringed instruments) on the East Coast and he is the only luthier in North America endorsed by many of the Gedolim of this generation.

The physical maintenance of a facility for eight days for hundreds of people is no simple task and this year as in the past several years, entrepreneur Frank Vasile who operates both a home inspection company as well as an extermination business, rendered his services to Beth Shifra. Said Rabbi Prussman, “Mere words really don’t seem adequate enough to express my heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to Mr. Vasile. His expertise in resolving critical plumbing issues as well as electrical repair work and a multitude of other maintenance related matters made it possible for everyone to enjoy themselves in a comfortable, sanitary and spotless setting.”

Moreover, Beth Shifra volunteers shuttled to the six other shuls and community centers in Brooklyn where they also organized free food programs and Sedorim for the indigent, elderly and infirm who could not travel to Boro Park.

Giving his perspective on why the Beth Shifra Pesach program is so essential to Jewish life, Rabbi Shmuel Gershbein said, “There is no word in biblical Hebrew for “charity.” Tzedakah is related to the word “tzedek”, meaning just or justice. “Tzidkus” means righteousness. We are not giving charity here; but rather we are attempting to take a challenging situation and create justice. He added that, “Our purpose on this earth is “l’hitpa’er.” It is incumbent on all of us to strive to transform this world and make Hashem’s name beautiful in it. Having a catering hall open twenty hours a day, every day of Pesach for any person who needs such a place is making Hashem Yisborach beautiful on this earth.”

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Fern Sidman holds a B.A, in political science from Brooklyn College. She was the educational coordinator for the Betar Youth Movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She was national director of the Jewish Defense League from 1983-1985. She was a researcher for several books written by Rabbi Meir Kahane, ZTK”L. She was the managing editor of the publication entitled, The Voice of Judea, and is a regular contributor to its web site. She is currently a writer and journalist living in New York City. Her articles have appeared in The Jewish Press, The Jewish Advocate, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, and numerous Jewish and general web sites including, Front Page Magazine, Daniel Pipes and Michael Freund.
We are delighted to have Ms. Sidman as a regular contributor to the Jesus is Lord, A Worshipping Christian’s Blog.

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