15,000 families receive Kimcha D’pischa Passover food bundles

Head of the Satmar Williamsburg hassidic community in Israel Rabbi Ephraim Stern says charitable giving at such time will soften the ‘harsh decree’ of the coronavirus epidemic.

15,000 families receive Kimcha D’pischa Passover food bundles (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
15,000 families receive Kimcha D’pischa Passover food bundles
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Mountains of potatoes, towers of matzah and mounds of onions were just some of the food items that were distributed for free as part of an annual charity event ahead of the Passover holiday for the benefit of thousands of needy families on Wednesday.
Every year, the traditional Passover charity appeals known as kimha d’Pis’ha are made, particularly in the ultra-Orthodox world, to help those in need with the financial outlays required for the holiday.
This year, with the coronavirus epidemic causing widespread unemployment and economic difficulties, the tradition has taken a more
important role than ever, especially in ultra-Orthodox communities.
So despite the difficulties that the health crisis has caused in terms of organizing any kind of mass event, as well as in simply leaving home, a massive distribution operation for thousands of families of essential Passover foods is being staged once again this year.
The NGO that carries out this kimha d’Pis’ha distribution is called Oneg Shabbos and Yom Tov and is run by its founder, Rabbi Ephraim Stern, who also happens to be the head of the Satmar Williamsburg hassidic community in Israel.
This is the 41st year in which Stern has carried out his Passover food distribution, and he was determined that despite the coronavirus epidemic, and in fact due to the severe economic consequences of the disease, it would take place as usual this year, too.
“I thank people for taking from me; it is very hard for people to concede that they need help, in terms of their dignity, and so it is
an honor for me that they receive this food from my organization,” Stern told The Jerusalem Post, in exceedingly rare comments to the media.
“I say ‘thank you’ to those who receive the food, for taking it from me,” he continued, adding thanks to his donors in Europe and the US, including LA businessman Shlomo Rechnitz, one of his principal backers.
“A lot of people are afraid and anxious at this time, and if we help people at such times, it will make ‘a sweetening’ of the [harmful] decree against the Jewish people, when God sees what is happening,and help speed the coming of the Messiah,” said the rabbi.
Stern’s Satmar community is part of the hard line Eda Haredit association of radically conservative ultra-Orthodox groups, but the organizers were at pains to insist that the food donations were made regardless of the recipients community. 
This distribution exercise usually takes place on the corner of Shmuel Hanavi and Shivtei Yisrael streets amid Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox communities, but due to the epidemic was shifted this year to the car park of the Malha train station in south Jerusalem, in coordination with the police and Health Ministry.
And some 11,000 food bundles were distributed at the site to those who had registered in advance.
Food was distributed by workers, clad in masks and gloves, directly into the cars, vans and pickups driven by those receiving the
packages, without having to exit their vehicles.
Sacks of potatoes and onions were chucked through windows and into the trunks of the assorted vehicles, while beef, matzah, fruit and other supplies were also loaded on by the workers.
Each food bundle was worth approximately NIS 1,200, although the value of some were higher since the amount received is in accordance with the number of people in the household.
A similar distribution event will be staged in Beit Shemesh on Sunday, and in total some 60 tons of beef, 20 tons of matzah, 125,000 bottles of grape juice, 20 tons of fruits and vegetables, and two million eggs will be given out to the 15,000 receiving families.
The value of the food being distributed was so high that some of those who came to receive it even hired cars for the day so as to go and collect it from Malha, a long distance to travel from the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
Those who sign up to receive the food come almost exclusively from the ultra-Orthodox community, but from all parts of the sector, including hassidim, non-hassidic “Lithuanians,” Sephardim, Yemenites, organizers told the Post.
The Oneg Shabbos and Yom Tov charity examines each request for the food to ensure that it is going to those in need.
One man, a Dushinksy hassid from Jerusalem with nine people in his household, said that he was also picking up the supplies for seven other families, and was on his second run to the site to pick up what he could not manage the first time round. 
“Without this help it would be much more difficult to put on all the celebratory meals over Passover, and many people are in the same situation,” he said as a bag of onions was unceremoniously dumped into his open trunk.