Ottawa Kosher Food Bank: Uniting through tzedakah

By Valerie Michailovich

For Ottawa Kosher Food Bank

On the evening of March 9, Jewish communities around the world will begin celebrating Purim. The holiday tells a story of real courage and bravery that saved the Jewish people from their evil persecutor, Haman.

Many celebrate Purim with some of the happiest traditions: the reading of Megillat Esther; the exchange of Mishloach Manot between family and friends; and the consumption of a delicious holiday feast.

However, hidden within the playfulness of the holiday lies an important commandment associated with Purim: Matanot La’evyonim (giving tzedakah to the poor). This commandment is based on a verse that can be found in Megillat Esther: “And one must give gifts to the poor during the day of Purim; and no less than two poor people, one gift to each of them to anyone who holds out their hand, you shall give it to them.”

In Judaism, the act of giving charity is not time bound; one is encouraged to give charity at any time of the year. And yet, it is an essential part of observing Purim.

While there are many explanations as to why one is commanded to give to charity during Purim, the foremost is this: Jews were oppressed and suffered collectively as a people. Therefore, the main theme of Purim is Jewish unity. We celebrate our freedom and many blessings together, as one community.

Unfortunately, there are those in our community who are less fortunate than others. Each month about 80 to 90 Jewish families rely on the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank for basic needs like canned goods, kosher meat, fresh produce, and household items.

Established in 1997, the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank – based at Kehillat Beth Israel – supports people of all ages living in Ottawa. Over the past year, 23 per cent of its clients were children under age 18. Not only do these families get access to healthy and nutritious food, they also become part of a greater community.

This Purim, we have a perfect opportunity to give back and fulfill the commandment of Matanot La’evyonim. Although the mitzvah is fulfilled by giving charity to at least two individuals in need on Purim, here are some ways one can support the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank this Purim and throughout the year:

•           Donate online or by phone and have tribute cards sent out to friends and family to celebrate the holiday;

•           Participate in a community-wide food drive by bringing non-perishable food and household items to the Megillah reading at your synagogue;

•           Sponsor a Stock-the-Freezer event to prepare and freeze soups, baked goods, and other items for our clients.

Your donation is more than just a donation. It is an act of courage and promotion of Jewish unity, the pillars of the story of Purim. Let’s make sure that everyone in our community can unite and enjoy the holiday festivities.

Visit or follow us on Instagram or Facebook or contact Ottawa Kosher Food Bank Manager Dahlia Milech at 613-728-3501, ext. 235 for more information.