Z41A: This Passover, Putting Tikkun Olam Into Action for All

Passionate about nonsectarian aid, Marie-Claire Levy explores Passover's universal significance.

By Marie-Claire Levy - JDC Annual Board Fund & Development Systems Manager | April 5, 2023

Marie-Claire Levy in Przemysl, Poland in April 2022, where she joined JDC's humanitarian response to the Ukraine crisis.

When Marie-Claire Levy became a JDC Entwine Jewish Service Corps (JSC) Fellow, she went to the JDC-supported Agahozo Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) in Rwanda.  A few years later, she was called to the field again – this time to Poland, where she helped power JDC’s humanitarian response to the Ukraine crisis and took part in a transformative Passover seder. In this post, Levy thinks about the similarities and differences between these two experiences – experiences that deepened her commitment to repairing the world. 

Levy with JDC Staff Monika Elliott, preparing for Passover in Poland.

The woman two courts over from me looks just like the Israeli embassy professional I worked with on the border. The folded cot next to the trash appears identical to the cots lining the walls of a humanitarian center operating out of a shopping mall in Przemysl. The daffodils poking their heads out, the first sign of spring, remind of the paper daffodils worn to commemorate the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  

Everywhere I go now, I am reminded of what I saw in Poland. Nearly a year later, this experience still resonates. I spent most of April 2022 in Poland, supporting my colleagues on the ground. My month there felt very reminiscent of my time as an Entwine Jewish Service Corps (JSC) Fellow in Rwanda in 2017, where my JDC journey began. On our first day at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) in the eastern province of Rwamagana, we received rubber bracelets in ASYV colors. Most of us never took them off – and it proved for good reason. At airports, cafés, banks, and more, people would see the bracelet and immediately associate me with the good name of ASYV.  

Though a completely different situation, I felt similarly in Poland with my JDC blue jacket, identifying me as an NGO worker, and my white bracelet that allowed me entrance into one of the humanitarian centers. But, unlike my ASYV bracelet, I wanted desperately to remove these accouterments. While proud of the blue jacket, I felt unworthy of its logo. And the sight of the white bracelet that read, “Z41A,” always made me slightly queasy. How had so many people needed bracelets that letter Z had already been reached less than two months into the crisis? I felt constantly on edge, unsure of what I, with my fluent Portuguese and nonexistent Polish, could possibly provide to those in need.  

Then I found the answer: I could tell their stories. Similar to Rwanda, where I showed off the magic of ASYV to visitors, in Poland, I met with clients at different stages of their journey so I could relay the needs back to different stakeholders. I followed them on their journey as soon as they crossed the border into Poland – their journey to tents, refugee centers, hotels, and events. Unfortunately, the journey still continues for so many. But the last stop on my journey in Poland was possibly one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had. 

This last stop was Passover. Not since WWII had so many Jews celebrated Passover together in Poland. That Seder involved moving supplies, such as matzah, Haggadot, and more, across international borders. All hands were on deck – local rabbis, international volunteers, and anyone and everyone connected to the community: All had a role in making it happen. Seeing the joy on the faces of so many during that Seder, from a two-year old playing with a matzah box, to the babushkas dancing an impromptu hora – I will never forget this feeling.  

Not since WWII had so many Jews celebrated Passover together in Poland – I will never forget this feeling.

And while my personal Passover will look very different this year, I’m comforted to know JDC will again make the holiday possible for so many of our clients worldwide. Whether you celebrate in Poland, Rwanda, or the United States, I hope that around our Seder tables we will continue to tell the stories of our brethren, from ancient times until now. Remembering them and what they have endured, while continuing to share their stories is, to me, a sacred act and one in which I hope we will all take part. 

Marie-Claire Levy began her JDC journey as a Jewish Service Corps (JSC) Fellow at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwamagana, Rwanda, where she served from December 2016 through January 2018. During her time there, Levy hosted hundreds of visitors and mentored a group of twenty teenagers.Levy re-joined JDC in 2019, first as an Operations Coordinator on the Entwine team and then as an administrative assistant with JDC’s Resource Development team, which she joined in the summer of 2020. And in April 2022, Marie-Claire served as the JDC’s RD field representative in Warsaw, Poland, where she hosted delegations and supported JDC’s local staff to help the numerous Ukrainian refugees sheltering in Poland. Marie-Claire holds a BA in international affairs from Florida State University.

Sign Up for JDC Voices Stories