Could Milk Replace Wine?

“Rabbi, does Chabad have any extra food cards available? Even $50?”

Helen* sounded hesitant, almost apologetic. I was shocked. We have known Helen and her husband Michael for over 20 years. They live a simple life, work two jobs each and pay their bills. They have never asked for anything. If attending a program with a fee, they insist on paying in full; they do not accept my offer of a reduced rate or no fee at all. A story flashed through my mind:

Before Passover, a woman approached the village rabbi with a question: “Rabbi, can I use milk instead of wine to fulfill my obligation to drink four cups?” The rabbi answered that wine or grape juice must be used. After she left, he instructed his assistant to give her enough money to pay for the seders and all her Passover expenses. “But Rabbi,” the assistant protested, “why so much money? All she asked was if milk could replace wine?” The rabbi responded, “My dear friend, we must read between the lines. Kosher laws forbid eating milk and meat together. If this woman and her family are ready to drink milk instead of wine, that means they have no money for chicken or meat either. Their seder table would be bare indeed.”

If Helen is requesting $50 for food, what else is she missing? I asked her what is really going on. Slowly the details unfolded:

“Well, we have been buying less food because we are struggling to keep up with the co-pays on our medicine. Michael has been ill and unable to work. We are just scraping by. A few months ago, my doctor warned me that my age and underlying health conditions made it unwise to continue my part-time job as a home health aide during COVID. We approached different agencies to see if we could receive any additional support. So far, nothing. Rabbi, we find ourselves in a tough spot. We couldn’t even pay our condo fees this month!”

By the end of the conversation, I had a clear picture of how much they would need to make up their monthly deficit and surmount these challenges. I found some potential job opportunities for Helen that were safe and could provide some supplemental income. But it wasn’t enough—and a $50 food card was not going to do the trick.

Then I reached out to the COVID-19 Maimonides Fund of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven and described the situation. Within days, they supplied funds that allowed Helen and Michael to close the gap and cover groceries, medicine and rent.

Nothing feels better than helping people in need. And nothing hurts more than seeing people in need and being unable to help. The Jewish community has supported the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation's COVID-19 Maimonides Response Fund, and that fund has supported Helen and Michael. We see difficult situations being resolved in a clear, timely manner. Your generosity provides for those who are struggling. You lift them up with your kindness and care. Thank you!

Rabbi Yossi Yaffe
Director, Chabad of the Shoreline

*In order to protect the dignity and privacy of those in need, we have changed names and combined the details of different cases into one composite.