The seder is just days away, and Mendel Rosenberg is still at it, knocking on doors, handing out fliers, and trying to find Jewish men and women who don’t have a place to go for the first night of Passover. Right alongside him is his friend, 19-year-old Mendel Kamish.
They’ve been out and about in the 80-degree weather in the Miami area, where Rosenberg, 20, is from, taking the idea of the “fifth son” to heart—the one not even sitting around the seder table. And they’re offering them a place for free.
“It’s amazing how many Jews here no one is meeting,” says Rosenberg, a yeshivah student in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., noting that many are elderly, though just as many are not. “You find a Jew smack between hundreds and hundreds of Jews in this neighborhood who wasn’t going to a seder.”
This is the third year Rosenberg has organized such a seder, but the last two times he did it with significant help from family members. His parents, Rabbi Rafi and Hindy Rosenberg, are co-directors of Skylake Chabad House in North Miami Beach, Fla., and in the past, his mother cooked the food for the 40 or so guests, plus the 10 that comprises his immediate family.
“It’s very rewarding,” says Rosenberg. “Each person has a story, and it makes me feel good knowing they have somewhere to go.”'
This year, Rosenberg and Kamish have taken over the duties—of finding the guests, leading the service and raising the funds to pay for it all. They have a venue, the Bais Menachem Shul of North Miami Beach, and a caterer for the food, but everything else is up to them. (They do have a few friends and siblings pitching in as well.)
As for the fundraising, “it’s tough,” acknowledges Rosenberg. “It’s not easy to ask for money. But my mother ingrained in my head that you’re giving people the opportunity to do a mitzvah. People want to help; they know it’s the right thing to do. And they can always say no.”
Marc Greenberg, who attended the seder last year and is coming again this year, wrapped tefillin last week for the first time, assisted by Rosenberg.
The goal is to get 50 people to the seder, and the young men think they have that number already. They insist that anyone is welcome, whether they can pay something or not. That’s why they have been busy getting sponsors for each individual who will gather around their table come Friday.
In fact, Rosenberg says he has been overwhelmed by the generosity. Friends at yeshivah—young men with little money—have offered hundreds and hundreds of dollars towards the effort. And the neighborhoods Rosenberg and Kamish have been visiting in North Miami Beach have also risen to the occasion, offering tzedakah and sponsorship for their fellow local Jews.
Yoav Davidovich attended the seder last year after recently moving to the area. “I really appreciate what he did,” says the native Israeli, a truck driver, of Rosenberg. “He’s from a warm and wonderful family who are on a mission.”
While he is not planning to go this year, he recognizes the effort, and when asked about such responsibilities for organizers so young, he shrugged it off, saying “they have what it takes to do that. It’s not about age. They are totally capable.”
‘The Next Big Thing’
The flier advertising the seder on the first night of the holiday.
Kamish, a native of Los Angeles who attended yeshivah in Miami last year with Rosenberg (they now study down the block from each other at differentyeshivahs in Brooklyn), says he was surprised by how many people have come up to them as they stand outside a local supermarket handing out fliers and, more recently, boxes of shmurah matzah.
“There’s a large community of Cuban Jews that I didn’t know about, and so many are not in touch with Judaism,” relates Kamish. “They’ve never put ontefillin, never been to a seder in their lives; they lost all of it.”
Even if people they meet already have plans to attend a seder, Kamish says they’re giving them shmurah matzah for their tables.
Two years ago, he spent time in Vilna during Passover as an official counselor for Lithuanian teens and also helped at a Chabad-sponsored seder for them. “That was a very good experience,” he says. “This is the next big thing for me for Passover.”
The two have spent the better part of their yeshivah breaks of late planning the seder and working out the details. Next year, Rosenberg says he wants to start three months ahead of time to get up to speed and grow it even more. He plans to be in the Miami area then full-time—as the oldest child of eight, helping his parents and carving out a niche for himself as well.
“There’s a lot more I can do,” he says with all the gusto of a 20-year-old. “I grew up watching my parents, so this is natural for me. Everything I learned, I learned from them.”
Kamish, Rosenberg and a friend from the Miami area, Tali, hold boxes of shmurah matzah, which they have been handing out to Jewish residents prior to Passover.
Kids after a mitzvah tank parade on Tuesday, letting people know about the Friday-night seder and giving out shmurah matzah. Afterwards, Rosenberg and Kamish, in the back row with friends, took them out for pizza.