How Train Cars Filled with Matzah Made it to the Soviet Union in 1929

April 15 2019

In 1929, Stalin’s efforts to collectivize agriculture were in full swing, and the Soviet Union suffered some of the severest famines and grain shortages of its history. These economic conditions, combined with the Bolsheviks’ repression of religion, made it doubly difficult for Jews to obtain matzah for Passover. Having fled the USSR the previous year, and thus well aware of the circumstances there, Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, rebbe of the Lubavitch Ḥasidim, enlisted a number of prominent rabbis and communal leaders in a plan to send matzah to Soviet Jews. Dovid Margolin tells of their efforts:

On the morning of March 6, 1929, [the German rabbi Meir] Hildesheimer met with the Soviet ambassador to Berlin, Nikolai Krestinsky, with the latter saying that the Soviet government had officially granted permission for 50 train cars of matzah to be imported to the Soviet Union. . . . [After weeks of further negotiations], the Soviet trade representative telephoned [the Latvian Jewish leader Mordechai] Dubin and told him that he had made a mistake, and if the wagons had not yet been sent to please hold off, as he was awaiting special instructions from Moscow. Dubin . . . refused to back down. . . . Three hours later the Soviet official [allowed] the first five wagons to proceed to their destinations.

In Riga, [where the matzah was baked and then shipped to the USSR], another five wagons were prepared immediately, but then came news from Berlin. The Soviets [would still allow] for 50 train-cars of matzah, but there was a catch: [the exporters] would need to pay the luxury duty of two rubles per kilogram. Each wagon could hold approximately 5,000 kilograms of matzah—250,000 kilograms all together. This brought the sum needed to approximately $130,000 in taxes alone, the equivalent of nearly $2 million in 2019.

Yet, after further negotiation and much last-minute fundraising, 28 of the 50 the train-cars made their way to the intended recipients.

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More about: Chabad, Matzah, Passover, Soviet Jewry, USSR

Iranian Attacks in the Persian Gulf Require a Firm Response

June 17 2019

In the past few days, Iran has carried out several attacks on oil tankers in the vicinity of Persian Gulf, and attempted to shoot down a U.S. observation drone. These attacks follow other recent acts of sabotage on the oil trade in the region—and that’s not to mention the Iran-backed Houthi militia’s missile strike last week on a Saudi civilian airport that injured 26 people. David Adesnik urges the White House to send a clear message to Tehran:

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More about: Iran, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy