For residents of Kew Gardens Hills, seeing a line a block long on 72nd Avenue for the Passover food distribution hosted by the Chazaq Organization and Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty is quite eye-opening. For others, the experience of seeing the charity in their neighborhood is heartwarming, but for all it is the selfless dedication of these two organizations and their staff and volunteers that brings out the best of a community on the precipice of a holiday that promotes family, progress, and renewal.
The distribution included familiar faces like Aviv Simantov, who runs the operations, and volunteers like his mother, Israel Peskowitz of the Government Affairs bureau from Chazaq; Aaron Cyperstein, Managing Director, Legal & External Affairs for Met Council; Ben Zaientz who provides Agency Relations for Met Council; Council Member Linda Lee; Chazaq CEO Rabbi Yaniv Meirov; Rabbi Avraham Fridman, menahel at Yeshiva Sha’arei Zion; former Council Member Rory Lancman; Adam Suinov, Jewish liaison to Council Member James Gennaro; Rabbi Mayer Waxman, Executive Director at the QJCC; Sean Byrne, Executive Deputy Commissioner, Office of Addiction Services and Supports for NYS; and his Regional Director of the NYC Field Office Zoraida Diaz, community advisor Alan Sherman, amongst others.
In a post-pandemic world, operating a food pantry is no small feat. Organizers began the coordination starting back nearly 11 months ago around Lag B’omer, when it was realized that supply chain issues would create shortages for items like chicken, eggs, oil, and their byproducts, like mayonnaise. Essentials for an authentic Pesach experience were being rationed by suppliers.
A drive by the Met Council warehouse in Brooklyn would reveal newly-installed freezer units outside of the physical structure that were obtained to store essentials when they became available over the course of the year.
Several years ago, I was privileged to coordinate this very pantry’s efforts. It was then that I learned that orders for Pesach are placed around Chanukah. Imagine! Passover shoppers in the tri-state region have become aware of various shortages, one being small jars of mayonnaise, often a basic at Pesach distributions. In lieu of this item, one may have found lemon juice as an alternate option.
Over the past year, when many would think that Met Council would curtail or keep a status quo on certain operations, the organization, under the direction of CEO David Greenfield, has expanded. Met Council is now outfitted with food distributions beyond the five boroughs and operates in areas like Monroe, Monsey, Albany, and even in New Jersey.
The last year has also seen Met Council take on service to a greater percentage of Jews of Color. Met Council is widely-known for their care to immigrant communities. Food distribution is now available to the Gorsky Kavkazi Jewish community in Brooklyn. Known as Mountain Jews, part of the Mizrachi Jewish community and descendants from the Persian Jewish community of Iran, Kavkazi Jews are not immune to the burdens of the American financial system.
If there is one takeaway from seeing elected officials, volunteers, and community members at the Lev Aharon Community Food Pantry, it would be to choose one of Pesach’s mitzvos and place extra concentration on this deed, instead of stressing out over the endless shopping, cleaning, and packing.
By Shabsie Saphirstein