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April 18, 1986 - Image 31

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-04-18

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Matzah baker prepares to remove matzah from the oven.

great precision," stated the article
accompanying the drawing.
From a personal perspective, there is
a touching story about my grandfath-
er, the patriarch of our family, the late
Rabbi Ibbias Geffen of Atlanta, Geor-
gia. His involvement in obtaining a
dramatic pardon for a Jewish prisoner
stemmed from a request for matzah.
Several weeks before Passover 1933,
my grandfather received a letter from
a prisoner in the Reidsville prison, site
of one of the then-notorious chain
gangs of Georgia. The letter requested
matzah and a Haggadah, since, as the
writer put it, this would be "the first
Passover I am away from home." The
writer had signed his name, but had
not included additional details about
Rabbi Geffen quickly responded with
a package of provisions for the pris-
oner, including not just a Haggadah
but also other Passover foods. He also
asked for more information from the
incarcerated individual. Additionally,
the rabbi called upon his sou, a local
attorney, to see what other data could
be unearthed about the prisoner. The
story that unfolded seemed like the
most exciting of fiction novels — but
it was true.
The prisoner, a resident of a north-
eastern American city, was a book-
keeper by profession. Jobs were few

and far between, during the Depresr
sion, and this young man, who had a
family to support, thought he might
find work in Florida. Unable to afford
a bus ticket, he made his way south by
hitchhiking. In South Carolina, he got
a ride with a group of men. Unex-
pectedly, they turned out to be bank
robbers on the run and they took him
along as their prisoner.
After crossing into Georgia, they
were caught by the state police, who
had a warrant for their arrest. The in-
nocent hitchhiker was tried with them,
convicted and sent off to the chain
gang. Since his arrest and imprison-
ment in October 1932, his family had
worked in vain for his release.
• After learning this information, the
rabbi visited the prisoner in Reidsville
in order to meet the gentleman per-
sonally. When he was completely con-
vinced of the man's innocence, Rabbi
Geffen went to work: k month after
their meeting, the prisoner's request
for release was turned down by the par-
don board:Now, the only authority
able to intervene was Governor Eugene
Thlmadge. He asked the rabbi for a let-
ter explaining why this individual
should be freed.
The rabbi emphasized, among other
points, that the young man's request
for matzot, and Passover supplies dem-
onstrated the depth of his religious

feeling and his character. Even though
the governor's advisers objected ve-
hemently to the prisoner's release, the
governor, using the rabbi's letter as a
guide, freed the prisoner. Some have
suggested that Talmadge gave a "Mat-
zot Pardon."
During the World War II years, the
concentration camp inmates were
denied matzah and sometimes found it
difficult even to discover the date of
Passover. • •
A touching prayer was composed for
those individuals who had to eat bread
on Passover: 'Our Father in Heaven,
behold, it is evident and known to Thee
that it is our desire to do Thy will and
to celebrate the festival of Passover by
eating matzah and by observing the
prohibition of hametz. But our heart
is pained that the enslavement pre-
vents us and we are in danger of our
lives. Behold, we are prepared and
ready to fulfill Thy commandment:
'And ye shall live by them and not die
by them.' Therefore, our prayer to Thee
is that Thou mayest keep us alive and
preserve us and redeem us speedily so
that we•may observe Thy statutes and
do will and serve Thee with a
perfect heart. Amen:'
As has always been the case, the
most Orthodox Jews will only use
matzah that has been "shemurah"
("watched") in every step of its prep-

aration, including the final baking. In
Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox. Meah
Shearim, in particular, it is possible to
see shemurah matzah being baked in
the month prior to Passover. However,
matzah shemurah continues to • be
baked in the United States. Almost a
quarter of a century ago, an American
president helped to insure the fulfill-
ment of this commandment
In 1962, not enough shemurah
wheat flour was available for the bak-
ing of matzah by the most pious Jews
in the U.S. When it became known that
a shortage of this wheat flour existed,
there was only one recourse — Israel.
However, American law only allowed
the importation of limited quantities
of wheat flour. In order to get permis-
sion for this unusual import, applica-
tion had to be made to President John
F. Kennedy, who issued a special pro-
clamation for this purpose.
The matzah story is a fascinating
one, interwoven as it is into the warp
and woof of Jewish life no matter
where we have resided and no matter
where we might be fOund. As we sit at
the Seder table this year. , let's not take
matzah for granted. A staple of Pass-
over, matzah has endured through the
centuries to maintain its unique place
in our Passover diet. ❑

David Geffen is -d writer who lives in Israel.

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