Matzah And A Priest

A tenacious attempt to bring students matzah leads to a Jewish priest.

Matzah And A Priest

by Ashira Weiss - Canada

April 12, 2020

In a small Canadian city sits an exclusive boarding high school, home to many international students from Brazil, Mexico, Russia and elsewhere. Though no longer an official faith school, the priests on staff and the ornate chapel are lingering evidence of its strong Christian roots.

Thrice weekly, all faculty, staff and students attend mandatory religious services at the chapel. In 2007 Rabbi Zalman Zaltzman, the city’s Chabad representative, made quiet inquiries and successfully arranged for the Jewish students to meet in the library each Friday during the services for a Jewish studies class.

In 2009, after two years of teaching at the school, the rabbi received an email from the school faculty. “Thank you for your services to our students. They will no longer be necessary,” it read. And so the Jewish students at this exclusive and Christian-led high school were left with no further Jewish studies.

It was eight months later, the morning before Passover would begin. Reflecting on the lengths to which the Rebbe would go to afford a Jew the opportunity to do a mitzvah, Perla Zaltzman thought about her husband’s students. Though the rabbi hadn’t had any contact with them since his classes were suspended, the couple resolved to somehow get matzah to them, whatever it took. 

The couple reached out to all their contacts at the school trying to get permission to furnish the students with Passover supplies and were passed from one person to another. “You have to speak to Father Jason,” they were eventually told. “Only he can give permission for you to reach the kids.”

A few hours before Passover began, Rabbi Zaltzman finally had Father Jason on the phone. “Tonight is the first night of Passover for the Jewish students,” the rabbi said. 

“I’m well aware,” said the priest. “I led a Tu B’Shvat event for them two months ago.”

Hearing the rabbi’s surprised response, the priest explained that his maternal grandfather had recently passed away and since then, his grandmother had repeated these words, as if a sacred mantra: “I’m Jewish, your mother is Jewish, and you are Jewish.”

Father Jason gave permission for the students to receive matzah and a few of them joined the Zaltzmans at their home for the Seder. At the clergyman’s behest, weekly Jewish studies were reinstated and are ongoing to this day. 

And for the next two years, each Friday, until the priest moved on, Father Jason would preach Christianity to the school body, while Rabbi Zaltzman taught the Jewish students in the library.

After classes, the rabbi would make his way to the priest’s office and the two men of the clergy would discuss life and religion. The rabbi would bring out his tefillin and the priest would roll up his sleeve. Together, the two Jews would say the blessing whilst the rabbi helped his Jewish brother wrap the leather straps on his head and forearm.

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