From Egypt to the Gulag: Making matzot for the needy

Yeshiva in Modi’in distributes matzot to soldiers and the poor inspired by deeds of a Soviet prisoner.

Soldiers with matzot donated 370 (photo credit: Tzvi Zelter/Hesder Yeshiva Meir Harel Modi’in)
Soldiers with matzot donated 370
(photo credit: Tzvi Zelter/Hesder Yeshiva Meir Harel Modi’in)
The grandson of a Gulag prisoner, Avraham ben Avraham Haim, exiled by the Soviet regime to Siberia during the Second World War, has donated 500 boxes of hand-made matzot for soldiers and the poor.
The descendants of Avraham, the Golinsky family, decided this year to commemorate a unique act of dedication to the Jewish faith that their grandfather performed in the cruel conditions of a Soviet forced labor camp.
In 1939, Avraham and his family, who lived in the Polish city of Lodz, fled from the Nazis to the Soviet-held city of Bialystok. But in 1940, the family, along with many others, was exiled by the Communist regime to Siberia as prisoners of war.
As Passover approached that year, the Jewish members of a labor team, directed by Avraham, banded together to prepare matzot for the festival.
Lacking the requisite oven, the group approached Avraham as a skilled, brave and natural leader, to build a makeshift furnace.
Avraham built the oven deep in the Siberian forest and baked the matzot needed for Passover with the knowledge that if he were caught he and his family would be put to death.
“The Zohar [a work on Jewish mysticism] calls matza the ‘bread of faith,’” said Avraham’s grandson. “I hope and pray that the matzot that are eaten this Passover will be a source of inspiration for the coming year.”
The numerical value of the letters of the name Avraham is 247 and the Golinsky family bought 247 pounds (more than 112 kg.) of matzot, equaling 500 boxes, for distribution in several locations around the country.
Students, rabbis and staff at the Hesder Yeshiva in Modi’in helped deliver 150 boxes to needy families in the city, while 100 boxes were given to the Le’Oro Nelech educational institute for distribution throughout Israel. The remainder were distributed in Lod, with a consignment provided to a community center in the city which holds a large communal Seder every year for needy families, as well as to reserve duty soldiers on active service.
The Golinsky family says it has teamed up with the Hesder Yeshiva in Modi’in because of the focus it puts on communal activities and that the distribution of matzot this year was designed to underline the value of “Ahavat Yisrael,” loving one’s fellow Jew, which was so pronounced in their forbear Avraham.
The distribution of matzot is just one of the ways in which the yeshiva has helped express and demonstrate the unity and brotherhood of the Jewish people, the family said.
Director of the yeshiva Tzvi Zeltzer explained that the dean and the rabbis of the institute have sought to instill a sense of social responsibility in the students as well as help build bridges between the religious and secular communities in Modi’in.
One of the yeshiva’s flagship programs in this regard has been the creation of a barmitzva project for non-religious youth in the city.
The yeshiva students and teachers provide an educational course for approximately 150 boys a year, in three annual intakes, including lessons, activities and trips and culminating in a bar-mitzva ceremony in the yeshiva when the individual participants are called up to the Torah.
The program consists of 10 meetings for the entire cohort, between 40 and 50 boys in each one, which provide classes in Judaism, Jewish identity and social awareness.
Another 10 meetings are arranged for one-on-one sessions between the boys and the program educators, the yeshiva students and teaching staff, where they are taught how to read from the Torah, put on tefillin and other religious practices.
The course involves volunteering activities for the boys, including visiting the sick in hospitals and providing snacks and treats for serving soldiers, as well as a trip to the Western Wall, a guided tour of the Western Wall tunnels and a climactic bar-mitzva party with live bands, dancing and general merriment.
Zeltzer said that the barmitzva project has been “incredibly successful” and, along with the yeshiva’s other programs, including study sessions for the elderly, open study programs for the general public in Modi’in and an emphasis on committed IDF service, has led to ongoing contact and ties between the yeshiva, the youth of Modi’in, and the broader community in the city.