a field of wheat
Sinai Memorial Chapel will again donate ma'ot chitim ("wheat money") to hungry people for Passover. (PIXABAY)

Sinai Chapel’s annual Passover ‘wheat money’ fund takes on added importance this year

For more than 100 years, Sinai Memorial Chapel in San Francisco has practiced the tradition of ma’ot chitim, or the “wheat fund.”

Sinai collects money to purchase kosher-for-Passover matzah, foodstuffs and wine for those in need, ensuring they have the necessary provisions to observe the holiday.

But this year, things are a little different.

Ma nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot!” exclaimed Sam Salkin, executive director of Sinai, offering up the first of the Passover seder’s Four Questions — “Why is this night different from all other nights?” — before adding his own slant: “Why is this Pesach different from all other Pesachs?”

The answer is obvious, he said. Passover under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic means everything has changed — and that means some of the grants Sinai makes are being used in different ways.

“The disruption is of the first order,” he said.

For example, the massive seder at San Quentin State Prison that Sinai funds every year won’t be held, because of social distancing. Instead, the money will be used to bring Passover to inmates in some other way, Salkin said.

But some things are the same: Programs at the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living and the Reutlinger Community in Danville to make their kitchens kosher for Passover will proceed as normal. And S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services will still distribute seder supplies to seniors.

“We’ve increased our grant to them [JFCS] because they’re going to be including more things in the seder sack,” Salkin said.

Total grants have increased 25 percent this year, Salkin estimated. “We’ve heard stories of greater need,” he said.

The list of beneficiaries of ma’ot chitim 2020 includes San Quentin, through a partnership with Berkeley’s Urban Adamah; the S.F. Campus for Jewish Living; the Reutlinger Community; Jewish Family and Community Services of the East Bay; Jewish Family Services Silicon Valley; the Veterans Home of California in Yountville; the JCC of the East Bay; the S.F. Veterans Administration Hospital; and the S.F.-based Community for Jewish Seniors, through a partnership with Chabad of Cole Valley.

“The chevra kadisha [burial society] tradition of ma’ot chitim is really to let people know that, at the celebration of the central story of our people, the Jewish community remembers everyone,” Salkin said.

Click here for more information about the Ma’ot Chitim fund. To support Sinai, visit sinaichapel.org/donate.html. To donate directly to the Ma’ot Chitim fund, write that in the memo line of a check and send to Sinai Memorial Chapel, 1501 Divisadero St., S.F., 94115.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.