Mon. May 20th, 2024

Photo Credit: Marc Gronich

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, residents lean on a box of eight pounds of boneless beef rib eye shoulder cut made in Mexico.

Pesach food keeps getting more costly each year and many families are finding it difficult to make ends meet when it comes to food shopping. The cost for a family of four during Pesach could run into thousands of dollars.

A charity known as Chasdei Lev (from the goodness of the heart) instituted a novel way to assist religious families. The Midwood, Brooklyn-based organization is driven by a phalanx of volunteers from each community the group serves. There are six locations for food and goods distribution in New York state (Brooklyn, Staten Island, Five Towns (Nassau County), Queens, Monsey (Rockland County), South Fallsburg (Sullivan County), two locations in New Jersey (Lakewood and Edison) and one in Connecticut (Waterbury). Overall, there are 17 states, 27 cities in the United States and two cities in Canada that benefit from their largesse.

The Jewish Press caught up with a caravan of tractor-trailers at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, where many migrants are being housed until they can be naturalized.

“Chasdei Lev provides thousands of families, primarily those of teachers in yeshivas around the tri-state area,” Josh Mehlman, chairman of the FJCC, Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition told The Jewish Press. “We use Floyd Bennett Field every year because we have literally more than 100 tractor-trailers full of food, double-stacked. Thousands of families are benefiting over Yom Tov from the generosity of community members who donate to make this happen.

“This effort is a token of appreciation to give back to worthy individuals. Every family gets a list of more than 100 items to order from. Everything is pre-ordered. This location assists 3,000 families. They pick how many of each one and what they would like to order. We put the order together for them, pre-stacked. Every family receives more than $3,000 worth of food, merchandise and housewares. Say thank you to our children’s rabbeim in a unique way. Each rebbe [or morah] receives between 40 to 50 cases of Pesach essentials, including chicken, meat, matzah, fish, detergents, paper goods, plasticware, nosh. Everything they could ask for,” Mehlman concluded.

The program was spurred on approximately a decade ago.

“The concept behind this started because we felt the rabbeim, unlike public school teachers, don’t have the benefits that public schools give, they don’t have the increase in salary every year that public schools give. That’s what unions are able to do. Yeshiva teachers, morahs, are the most well-deserving and most underpaid,” Mehlman said. “The volunteers created this concept and have been building it up since this program began.”

This effort also teaches children manners and how to respect their elders.

“It’s to say thank you (todah) to the rabbeim who teach in the yeshivas because we appreciate their work a whole year to educate our children. This donation operation is done twice a year and it takes a good couple of months before the holiday to coordinate. It is all volunteer, a huge operation, and it’s a pleasure from the people who volunteer to help out to make it happen,” said Mehlman. “Wherever there is a Jewish community with yeshivas and Bais Yaakovs, that’s where we do it. Our payback is if we could do a little bit for them, to help make it easier for them, for Yom Tov, for Pesach, and we do it for Rosh Hashana and Sukkot as well. We do it in September and we do it in April.”

Aside from the operational side being a bit tricky, financing this operation is costly as well.

“We spend over $9 million of our budget to purchase these products. The companies do not give it for free. They give it at a reduced rate. We are the largest purchaser for many of the kosher-for-Pesach foods because of the volume we are doing,” Mehlman said. “Much of this is donated, some subsidized, the schools pay a portion because we are helping their teachers and rabbeim, and the rest is through fundraising. We get a little bit of state and city funding. It’s not a significant portion of the budget.”

There are checks and balances to this operation to ensure the appropriate person gets their order and that those not eligible for the program are rejected from receiving any of the products.

“The goods go to each individual family. It doesn’t go to the schools. The schools just recommend who should receive the donation. The schools give us the names of the teachers and rabbis in the school. We then deal with them directly. We put them on our list and the recipient comes to pick up the goodies,” Mehlman said. “We feel it’s a little bit that we could give back to the teachers who work all year.” 

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