As Passover approached in April 1962, a wheat flour shortage left US Jews searching for how they were going to make matzah (unleavened bread) for that year's Passover.
President John F. Kennedy came to the rescue that February when he issued a special proclamation that granted special permission to import around five tons of wheat flour from Israel that year in order to allow Jews the opportunity to make all the matzah they needed. The president's proclamation, dated February 5, 1962, stated: "For the purpose of this proclamation 'Shmurah wheat flour' means wheat flour which has been thoroughly safeguarded for ritual purposes under rabbinical supervision, as certified to the Secretary of Agriculture by an authorized representative of the government of Israel or its designee, and which is imported into the United States for use solely for religious and ritual purposes in the making of matzos for Passover."
A recent tweet by the JFK Library wishing Jewish people a happy Passover showed the official White House press release regarding the transaction.
"The president today signed a proclamation allowing a limited quantity of wheat flour produced in Israel to enter the United States," the statement read. "In the absence of such a proclamation, Orthodox Jews would have been unable to observe the Passover holiday in accordance with their traditional rituals."
Due to a wheat flour shortage, JFK authorized the importation of 5 tons of flour from Israel before Passover in 1962 for matzoh making.Best wishes to all those beginning the #Passover celebration this evening! pic.twitter.com/rQOCJnyLyi— JFK Library (@JFKLibrary) April 8, 2020
The statement blames the flour shortage on rainy weather, which hampered wheat production during the harvest.
"It is important that the flour should not become wet before it is actually mixed preparatory to baking. This year all wheat-growing areas of the nation had rain during the harvest season.
"For the first time, the rabbinical emissaries who sought to supervise the preparation of the flour found that they could not testify that any wheat had remained dry," the statement continues. "The only place in the world where wheat had met the ritual specifications available was in Israel. There being no quota for wheat coming from Israel, it was necessary for the president to issue a proclamation granting special permission to import this wheat flour."
Whether or not the lack of wheat flour was entirely due to the weather is up for debate, as a new government initiative, the Wheat Program, reduced the acreage of wheat throughout the entire country.
According to a UN report on the state of food and agriculture from 1962, "Under the 1962 Wheat Program, the national minimum wheat acreage was reduced below the previous minimum of 55 million acres for the first time since the 1930s.
"In April 1962, it appeared that the area under wheat would be about 27% lower than in 1961 as a result of participation in the Wheat Program," the report states. "The official June forecast of the 1962 crop anticipated a reduction of about 14 percent."However, whatever the reason for the loss of wheat flour in the US that year, Kennedy's decision to import wheat was essential for the proper observance of Passover for many observant American Jews.
"It is expected that approximately five tons of wheat flour will be important" the statement finishes. "Without it, many thousands of Jews would be unable to complete one of their most solemn religious observances, the Passover Seder, and would have been left without their most important food for eight days."
Democrat Kennedy won the 1960 presidential election with 82% of the Jewish vote. This generous act would have unlikely done him any harm among Jewish voters had he survived to see another election.