Posted by Bernice Behar
Originally published in the Jewish Journal

Seder TableHow does New England's largest kosher food pantry prepare for Passover?

One of the busiest times of year in a Jewish household is just before Passover/Pesach when everyone works to prepare their house for the upcoming holiday, clearing out the chametz (leavened foods forbidden during Passover) and stocking up on kosher for Passover foods. Recently JF&CS Family Table prepared in a similar fashion for the holiday so that we would be "Pesach-ready."

Last year Family Table provided more than 19,000 bags of nutritious food valued at over $300,000 for people living on very low incomes. Family Table provides groceries once a month to recipients and additional food items for the holidays. This Passover we distributed food to nearly 400 families. This number has grown dramatically since our launch in 1993.

Our Passover preparations began in the depths of winter, when we asked our clients whether they would like kosher chicken, gefilte fish, matzah, macaroons, and much more. We turned to our 69 Family Table collection sites (local synagogues and day schools) to collect the food. The kosher chickens were purchased with the support of a generous donor. This year we provided more than 700 boxes of matzah to Jewish families!

Family Table is a grassroots effort with a great deal of community involvement that is essential. A group of volunteers from Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley joined JF&CS to help pack the Passover bags. Hundreds more volunteers assisted during Family Table distribution days at JF&CS Headquarters in Waltham and at our North Shore location, Temple Sinai in Marblehead.

Our Passover preparations also extended to our physical pantry space. In keeping with Jewish tradition, we observe the prohibition against chametz in both pantry locations. We "sold" our chametz with the help of a Rabbinic agent, who completed the process on our behalf. And just before Passover began we sealed our pantries, closing access for the duration of the holiday. What happens if someone needs emergency food during that time? We set aside several packages of groceries that we may distribute in emergency situations.

As we help families in need observe Passover, JF&CS Family Table remains true to its roots as an essential resource in the Jewish community and a place where volunteers and clients alike can feel a caring Jewish connection.

bernice beharBernice Behar is the Program Manager for Family Table, the largest kosher food pantry serving Greater Boston and the North Shore. She joined JF&CS in 2010 having spent many years working in the financial industry as a chartered financial analyst and investment manager. Bernice brings to Family Table a passion for helping people access nutritious food and a dedication to working in the Jewish community. She is an active board member at her synagogue and holds a BA from the University of California Berkeley.