OTTAWA — When fire destroyed the home of Rabbi Chaim and Yocheved Boyarsky on April 2, 2014, leaving them and their five children homeless, one of their first concerns – once they knew everyone was safe – was for the students who would be counting on them for Passover meals.
The Boyarskys, co-directors of the Ottawa Chabad Student Network, were planning to host two seders for students who were unable to return home for the holidays, as well as to provide kosher-for-Pesach meals for them throughout the week. They had expected to do the cooking and host the students in their home, but this became impossible.
The Boyarsky family moved to a hotel, where they will remain until their home is rebuilt. According to Rabbi Boyarsky, the damage was estimated at $100,000. Fortunately, insurance will cover the repairs, but it will take some time before the home can be inhabited again.
Bram Bregman, vice-president of community building for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, led the community effort to aid the Boyarskys so that they, in turn, could help the students.
“When we heard that a Jewish organization in Ottawa was in trouble, we took action. We helped them make alternate arrangements for their food preparation, and we set up a fund to help with any additional expenses they would be incurring to continue to offer their Pesach food and Pesach programs,” said Bregman.
“The community raised over $5,000 for this effort.”
Jenny Roberge, Ottawa’s first and only female mashgiach, also came to their aid.
“We and the Boyarskys arrived in Ottawa at about the same time five years ago and have become very good friends. My husband found out about the fire on Facebook and told me. We were shocked. I stopped by the house on my way to work [at nearby Congregation Beth Shalom] and left a note for them to call me as soon as possible,” she said.
It happened that none of the local synagogues was planning to kosher their kitchens for Passover, as no local caterers would be preparing food for the holidays, so the Boyarskys arranged to rent the kitchen at Congregation Beth Shalom.
Rabbi Levy Teitlebaum, head of the Ottawa Vaad Hakashruth, and Roberge, pitched in to help.
“It usually takes two weeks to prepare for Passover,” said Roberge, “but we made that kitchen kosher for Pesach in two days!”
The Boyarskys and their team of helpers – which included students and community volunteers –pulled off the amazing feat.
“We had a record number of students and volunteers, and we served about 800 meals throughout the week,” said Rabbi Boyarsky.
They held two seders at Congregation Beth Shalom for 125 guests and served meals throughout the week at the University of Ottawa. No meals and no programs were cancelled.
“We are still running our programs, and we are looking forward to building bigger and better with God’s help,” Rabbi Boyarsky said.