As my plane started its descent into Moscow's Shermetyevo Dva airport and the snow covered city came into view, I began to think about my Russian "career," which began almost three years ago. I first came to Russia as a counselor in Kiev's Gan Israel summer camp. The beginning was rough. An American boy getting used to the Russian lifestyle was no picnic, to say the least. And then, there was the language barrier.
Here I was, three years later, going to Moscow to be the head counselor of a 10 day camp of 110 Russian boys during Passover.
The night before camp started, all of us -- six American and six Russian counselors -- went to make the kitchen kosher for Pesach.
It took us about twelve hours of serious work to ready the entire kitchen. At about four a.m. we went to sleep. The first group of campers from the closer cities arrived at 3:00 p.m. When the second group arrived later that evening (some had traveled for 30 hours) we did bedikat chametz -- the search for leavened products.
The next morning before breakfast, we cleared away a space in the snow and performed the traditional burning of the chametz. Afterwards we took the kids skiing.
The highlight of Passover, of course, is the Seder which includes wine (grape juice for kids), matza, Romaine lettuce and of course horseradish. The grape juice was supposed to arrive on Wednesday, but since this was Russia, as Shabbat approached it still had not arrived. We prepared for the worst and mixed two ladles of sugar and ten bottles of water to every two bottles of wine.
The next hurdle to overcome was matza; 50 pounds of hand-made shmura matza were in a container from America that never arrived.
As Divine Providence would have it, at the last moment, a couple of kids from Riga decided to come to the camp. We charged the Chabad emissary in Riga, Rabbi Glasman, payment in matza!
Romaine lettuce, much to our surprise, was easy to purchase. However, horseradish was a different story. Friday morning we gave a nice fellow money for horseradish and a 20,000 ruble ($11) tip, with a promise for more if he succeeded in finding the horseradish. Sure enough, he returned, with enough horseradish to feed an army. One small problem: We didn't have time to prepare it in the food processor. So Saturday night we peeled, sliced and diced those horseradishes by hand. Boy did the tears flow.
Then the moment everyone had been waiting for arrived.
Shabbat ended and Passover began. The tables were set with beautiful white tablecloths, Yom Tov candles, maror, matza, wine and the Seder plates.
Everybody took their cup and together we said the kiddush. How wondrous are G-d's ways. Here we were in Russian with 110 Jewish kids, beginning the Passover Seder.
The Ma Nishtana was recited in Russian by one of the campers and then it was sung in the traditional tune. Throughout the Seder, everyone sang and was very involved.
Near the end of the Seder, a counselor gave a serious talk about the significance of saying the verses, "Pour out Your wrath..." and opening the door: "At this auspicious moment, when the gates of heaven are open, it is a special time to ask for a blessing for the Rebbe and anything else."
Two campers took candles and stood on either side of the door. Suddenly there were tears everywhere. Everybody stood motionless, realizing what a precious gift our Judaism is. And with these tears we began to sing Yechi Adoneinu -- Long Live the Rebbe.
We moved on to Hallel and thanked G-d for the miracles of bygone and present times. Then we drank the fourth cup of "wine" and everyone began dancing to the song L'shana Haba -- Next year in Jerusalem and Yechi. With that we ended the Seder.
The younger children went off to sleep. Some of the older campers stayed in the dining room with their counselors and spent most of the night talking.
When the first days of Yom Tov were over, we went with the campers to the zoo, the Moscow circus, an amusement park, and more.
As we approached the final days of Passover and camp, we spent time explaining to the campers the concept of Moshiach and the special connection that his arrival has with the last day of Passover.
By nightfall, the campers were eagerly awaiting Moshiach Seuda -- the special meal for Moshiach. Finally it came. There was an inspiring medley of songs, stories, speeches and dances all about Moshiach.
One of the counselors said, "This is a special time for Moshiach to come. Many times the Rebbe has said that we must cry out to G-d and say "Da Koley!" (Ad Mosai--How much longer!) G-d listens especially to the prayers of the young. In this land where so many people have had self-sacrifice for Judaism, let us cry out together to G-d that He send Moshiach NOW!" With complete solemnity, the campers saluted the Rebbe and then called out, "Da Koley!"
We danced for a long time after that.
When Yom Tov ended we prepared the traditional end-of-camp banquet. We didn't go to sleep until about 5:00 a.m. and were up again at 7:30 a.m. to make food for the campers' return trips.
When the last group of children stood on the train platform saying goodbye, one of the children began to sing a camp song.
Everyone joined in. Then they sang a famous Russian peasant song that was transformed decades ago into a Chasidic song. It is about two travelers and a bottle of vodka. One says to the other, "Don't worry, we will arrive at the next city and there will be vodka there." Only in the Chasidic version the words are: Don't worry, comrade, about what will be with us, for we are traveling to the Rebbe and there we will find Moshiach.
Indeed we are traveling towards Moshiach. May G-d listen to the pure prayer of the Jewish children in Russia and all over the world.
Eliyahu wrote this article upon his return from Russia. Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter.