As Russia was embroiled in political crisis with President Boris Yeltsin’s March 20 declaration of “special rule,” the Lubavitcher rabbis in Moscow were busy baking matzah in preparation for Pesach.
“A revolution?” asked Rabbi Berel Lazar, who had not seen the television news here with Yeltsin’s announcement. “We have our own revolution here.”
Several hundred Moscow Jews preferred to make the journey to the Lubavitchers’ model matzah bakery at the Russian capital’s vast VDNH park, rather than get involved in the small pro-and anti-Yeltsin demonstrations that took place Sunday following the president’s announcement.
Yeltsin declared emergency rule and called for a national referendum to resolve the dispute between him and the Russian Parliament. The Parliament, in turn, declared Yeltsin’s move unconstitutional.
Hundreds of non-Jewish Russians similarly opted for the park, where they gaped at new Western products displayed in exhibition halls that once showed off the accomplishments of the Soviet economy.
In the center of Moscow, crowds strolled on the city’s main street, window-shopping and eating ice cream, while the McDonald’s on Pushkin Square was packed.
At the model matzah bakery, there was a special treat. Children got to make their own matzah, kneading, shaping and baking the unleavened bread with their own hands.
“The hands-on experience will teach them more than any lecture,” said one Lubavitcher.
Children were not the only ones trying their hands at baking matzah.
One grandmother, Faina Kogan, came forward with tears in her eyes and asked permission to prepare her own matzah.
“The government denied me a formal Jewish education,” Kogan said, “but they were never able to take away the pride I felt in helping my mother bake matzahs.”
Said Rabbi Baruch Cunin, “We don’t know what will happen in Russia now; in the meantime, we’re getting ready for Pesach.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.