Without help, many Jewish families in New York could not afford to properly observe Passover.
With that in mind, about 15,000 homes will be issued pre-paid debit cards — worth $50 to $300 depending on family size — to defray the cost of special holiday preparations that center around avoiding leavened foods.
It’s the first time the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty is issuing the American Express cards, asking 60 sites — including their 25 satellite neighborhood Jewish Community Councils — to spread the word among local families.
“There is a sense that Jewish poverty is an oxymoron, people don’t think that there are poor Jews out there,” said Met Council CEO Willie Rapfogel. “Passover is a time of year when people ask for help. Everything in the ‘fridge and pantry can’t be used. They need everything.”
Religious law requires that people scrub their homes clean before Passover - removing any signs of starchy foods and then replacing normal kitchen supplies with sets that have never touched banned food and provisions.
A family of four can easily drop $1,000 on groceries and fresh pots and pans in preparation for the eight-day holiday, Rapfogel said.
“It’s hard. We don’t qualify for Medicaid or food stamps,” said Esti Rosenblatt, 30, using a $200 card to shop near her Crown Heights home. “We just had to sell our car.”
Rosenblatt, 30, a part-time nonprofit coordinator, and her husband Itamar, 33, a social worker, were already struggling to pay the mortgage on their three-bedroom condo and cover treatments for their 5-year-old son
Shmuel, who suffers from eosinophilic gastrointestinal disorder (EGID).
“Any help this time of year helps,” Rosenblatt said.
Washington Heights resident Michael Vaystub, 70, said he and his 69-year-old wife just do get by on Social Security. He said they’ll use their $100 card to purchase enough matzoh ball soup and gefilte fish to get them through the holiday.
“The price in stores are up. And the money is down,” Vaystub. “That’s why having this card is very important.”
Before the cards, Met Council allowed people to use paper vouchers at kosher grocery shops across the city.
“The voucher was too complicated. Our customers speak Russian and they didn’t understand what items they could get,” said Michael Jaffe, owner of Kosher Palace in Sheepshead Bay, one of 60 stores and shops that will honor the special debit cards.