Rabbinical students make matzah deliveries for Passover

Rabbi Shmuel Lesches, left, and rabbinical student Mendel Laufer were in Saranac Lake Tuesday as they traveled around the North Country delivering Shmurah Matzah, held by Laufer, to Jewish people preparing for Passover. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

SARANAC LAKE — Rabbi Shmuel Lesches and rabbinical student Mendel Laufer traveled around the North Country this week to deliver hand-rolled matzah to local Jewish people preparing for Passover, which begins on Wednesday.

The two are members of Chabad-Lubavitch, an international Hasidic movement with 3,500 “houses” around the world. Chabad is not pronounced with the “cha” sound, more of a “ha” sound.

The closest Chabad House is in Plattsburgh. Laufer and Lesches were working with the Chabad House in Syracuse. Lesches and Laufer were in Saranac Lake on Tuesday to make matzah deliveries here.

Laufer grew up in Rhode Island, where his father runs the local Chabad House, and Lesches is from Brooklyn. Both grew up in families in Chabad, but they made the movement’s mission of outreach their own.

Both attended a Jewish camp in Star Lake last summer. As members of Chabad, they took time to go to different towns and ask around to find Jewish people who might want more connection with their faith. People told them about Jewish friends and Jewish centers in their towns.

“There are many Jews living in remote areas, where there are very few fellow Jews and little infrastructure,” Yaakov Rapoport, a rabbi and director of the Chabad of Central New York, said in a statement. “Chabad, along with two young rabbis will be traveling throughout the North Country to reach out to them because many have not had much contact with Judaism for a while.”

They rented a van and Tuesday was their last day in the Adirondacks after visiting around 60 families and individuals throughout the Adirondacks — in Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, Tupper Lake, Canton, Potsdam, Watertown, Ogdensburg, Massena.

“The people here are very nice, they’re very welcoming,” Lesches said. “A bit different from the city.”

For some of them, it was their first-time getting such a delivery. Laufer said they enjoy seeing people smile or their eyes light up when they drop off the matzah.

They might share a conversation about the meaning of matzah and Passover or even a small prayer — a tefillin.

Laufer said Judaism used to be more closed and private in Europe before World War II. Now, it has been “revolutionized” and is focused more on outreach.

Leches said they are taught “If you know something, teach something.”

“Judaism isn’t just something internal,” Lesches said, adding that it’s meant to be shared. “The mission is very gratifying.”

They believe there is a “special time” approaching when the world will be more peaceful and everyone strives for spirituality and connection with God.

“Every mitzvah that is done … brings that era closer,” Lesches said.

A mitzvah is a commandment or a good deed. It could be anything from eating matzah at Passover to helping a neighbor.

The typical square matzoh found in stores is machine-made. It’s kosher, but Shmurah matzah is special.

Laufer said Shmurah matzah is guarded from water from the moment the wheat is cut. Water causes wheat to rise. Shmurah matzah is also round and hand-made.

“In Judaism, we don’t just believe in the action, we also believe in the intention behind the action,” Laufer said. “When people make it by hand they can have a special intention that should be used for the mitzvah, the good deed.”

Passover is an eight day holiday celebrating an event 3,000 years ago when they say God, through Moses, freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt. As they fled, they did not have time to let their dough rise, so it came out as a hard cracker. The matzah, as an unleavened bread, commemorates that. Leavened bread, the soft dough traditionally thought of as bread nowadays, is not eaten during the holiday. It is a time of gathering with family and friends.

Lesches said eating matzah is an authentic Jewish practice and is often a reminder of tradition, a reminder of childhood or a reminder of heritage.

“Taking the past and bringing it to the future,” Laufer said.

The Plattsburgh Chabad office can be reached at 518-565-9090. The Syracuse-based Central New York Chabad office can be reached at 315-424-0363.


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