New foundation for emigres sells buck-a-box matzah

Rabbi Shimon Margolin, president of the fledgling Techiah Foundation, was frantically passing out matzah for the reduced price of $1 per pound on Thursday of last week in a San Francisco Civic Center building.

The room was packed with more than 100 people, most of whom were Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, his beeper kept going off for more orders.

"It was a madhouse. They were practically fighting over it," said Alex Aharon Flig, spokesperson for S.F.-based Techiah. "We pretty much ran out in about an hour.

"The people who came were pretty happy. They went after the matzah as if they were recapturing something in their heritage that they had lost. It wasn't just a handout," he added.

Techiah, which means a renewal or renaissance in Hebrew, was formed four months ago by a group of eight Orthodox Jewish emigres in their 20s whose primary purpose is to help other Jewish emigres.

Margolin estimates that 40,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union now live in San Francisco.

Flig, a 26-year-old student at University of San Francisco Law School, said the organization's philosophy is based on the laws of the Torah.

"It's about kindness to your fellow Jew. It's incumbent upon us because we are one people."

In just a few weeks' time, Techiah has sold more than 3,000 pounds of Holyland brand matzah. Margolin, 26, said the plan is to sell another ton, but the demand in the targeted emigre community is exceeding the supply. "If we had 10,000 pounds, we would positively sell it."

The matzah is available to any individual who wishes to buy it. Techiah has also sold it in bulk for as little as 50 cents per pound to organizations such as the Association of World War II Veterans, the Emigre Department of the Jewish Community Center of S.F. and residents of Menorah Park and of senior housing developments in the Tenderloin.

The nonprofit foundation bought the matzah through kosher retailer-wholesaler Red Ox for $1.50 per pound. A few anonymous donors in the local emigre community have subsidized the outreach project.

"Being anonymous is the highest degree of charity," said Margolin. "We're so lucky that established immigrants want to help others."

Techiah members focus on assisting low-income emigres, particularly where there is a language barrier. Said Flig, "We have a unique background, being one of them. We already know what it's like to have gone through the exact same things they are going through. We can help bridge the cultural and language differences."

And, he added, "We can connect with them because we have the same background. They might be naive about something here, but they can speak freely with us whereas they might feel uncomfortable approaching an American."

This Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. will be the final day before Passover to buy matzah from Techiah at a Sunset District location the group has yet to determine.

In addition, Margolin and Techiah's education director, Rabbi Moshe Itzhak Moldavsky, will be leading two seders, one on Friday, April 10, at a location to be determined in the Richmond District and the other at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 11 at 771 Eddy St., in a senior housing building with 300 emigre residents. A $2 donation is requested.

"Passover is all about overcoming repression. These people can tell you all about it. It's not just symbolic," said Margolin. "Russians used to have to observe the holiday any way they could. My father used to travel to another city to get matzah. A lot of them want to reclaim their heritage here. One of our slogans is, `It's time to come back.'"

Techiah has not yet established a regular meeting schedule. But the organization has published a newsletter and has been offering assistance to emigres through educational, religious and social services.

The group has made the Torah available in Russian. It has assisted in mezuzah distribution and installation, as well as menorah distribution before Chanukah last year.

Techiah provides job and social service referrals. In addition, there is a 24-hour telephone line for hospital visitations and translating services called "Ezra Line."

"It's one of the bigger things we've done so far," said Flig. "When an elderly person is ill and has to go to the hospital, if they have trouble communicating with the hospital staff, a Techiah member might be able to help."

The foundation will also be selling Passover foods below wholesale prices before and during Passover in a "Passover Pack." The pack will contain a Haggadah in Russian, two boxes of matzah, gefilte fish, horseradish, kosher meat and grape juice.

Margolin sees a future summer day camp and hopes the organization will eventually have the resources to offer legal assistance.

For more information on the Techiah Foundation, call (415) 339-7803 or the Russian-language line at (415) 289-2010.