As the war in Ukraine continues to rage, a centuries-old Passover tradition is being highlighted by students at St. Paul’s Lubavitch Cheder Day School to benefit refugees. Ma’ot chitim — a Passover fund to help local individuals in need before the holiday — will also be used to benefit the Ukrainian Jewish community as they cope with the current devastation.
Ma’ot chitim, “the wheat fund”, was originally established over 1,600 years ago to help provide poor people with matzo, the flat unleavened bread eaten on Passover. In more recent times, this fund was expanded to supply the poor with other holiday supplies as well. It was with this tradition in mind that students at the Cheder decided to expand this Passover campaign and collect extra funds to benefit the Ukraine Jewish Relief Fund.
“This whole concept of ma’ot chitim is a really beautiful tradition about helping others,” said Rabbi Yossi Bendent. “In Torah, we’re always emphasizing how no joy is truly complete without helping others, So you cannot sit at your Seder or your festive holiday meal at peace with yourself and truly enjoy it without knowing that those who have less than us are being cared for and taking care of them.”
The Cheder’s campaign involves a small, yellow, ark-shaped tzedakah box. The campaign coincides with April 12, on what would’ve been the 120th birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The Minnesota State Senate and House of Representatives have passed resolutions marking April 12th as Education and Sharing Day in Minnesota. Bendet delivered each legislator will receive an ark to promote the concept of giving routinely.
“The word ark is an acronym for acts of random kindness, and some people cross out random and they say routine,” Bendet said. “So the idea is if you have that little box in your office, on your desk, or for a child to have in their own space, they use it regularly.”
The Chabad movement has strong ties to the region where the war is taking place. Bendet said the name Lubavitch is the Russian town where Chabad was headquartered for more than 100 years, and the Rebbe was born in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, and spent his formative years in the city that is now called Dnipro.
Bendet said that the campaign can be a way to help children process what’s happening in the news.
“Simply helping, and including the children in that process for them to know that there’s a way that they can make a difference, instead of just being traumatized about the war,” he said. “They can actually find some meaningful, positive outlet for their concern and worries and care for other Jews and other human beings.”