Baking for good

Ukrainian immigrant makes matzah for friends in Odesa

Alina Tirnovienko made aliyah in 2019, and works at historic Matzot Aviv factory

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Alina Tirnovienko, a recent immigrant to Israel from Odesa, Ukraine, works in the Matzot Aviv factory. (Courtesy IFCJ)
Alina Tirnovienko, a recent immigrant to Israel from Odesa, Ukraine, works in the Matzot Aviv factory. (Courtesy IFCJ)

Alina Tirnovienko always ate matzah on Passover back in Odesa, usually celebrating the seder at the local Chabad.

Now she is one of the workers making matzah at the Matzot Aviv factory in Bnei Brak, seasonal work for Tirnovienko since making aliyah in 2019 with her daughter, Ora, prior to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This year is Tirnovienko’s fourth season helping churn out the tons of matzah made by Aviv, one of the country’s oldest matzah bakeries, founded in 1887 in Jaffa.

Tirnovienko, 54, who was a realtor and helmed the reception desk at a local hotel in Odesa before immigrating to Israel, has since immigrating worked in a bakery, cleaned offices and adds the seasonal work at Aviv in order to make ends meet.

“I’m not afraid of hard work,” she said. “I began working when I was 15, and I’ve been working constantly since then. When I decided to make aliyah in 2019, I decided it was time to move to Israel and these are the consequences.”

Tirnovienko wants to improve her Hebrew and hopes better language skills will help her find more stable work. For now, she says, making matzah for several months a year helps fill the financial gaps.

This season, Tirnovienko’s matzahs will make their way to her hometown of Odesa as part of an effort by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) to supply food for Passover to communities in need.

It is a personal milestone for Tirnovienko, who received aid and advice from the IFCJ ahead of her immigration to Israel.

Alina Tirnovienko, a recent immigrant to Israel from Odesa, Ukraine, works in the Matzot Aviv factory, here with Yael Eckstein, CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which will send matzos to Ukrainian Jews for Passover 2023 (Courtesy IFCJ)

During the Passover season, the IFCJ is working with other organizations, including the Joint Distribution Committee and Chabad, to provide matzos, food, clothing and aid to 140,000 men, women and children in the Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union. The IFCJ also will be distributing 15 tons of matzos to the Jewish communities in Ukraine and Moldova through Chabad emissaries.

Ukrainian capital Kyiv has its own matzah factory that operated secretly for decades before being modernized into a full-fledged factory.

The IFCJ sent matzos to Ukraine last Passover from Israel and is sending them again this year, said an IFCJ representative.

For Tirnovienko, being part of that effort feels right.

“It’s closing a circle for me,” said Tirnovienko. “I emigrated to Israel from Ukraine with the help of the Fellowship and now I’m making matzah so that they can send matzah to Jews in Ukraine for Passover.”

While Tirnovienko and Ora moved to Israel in 2019, prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, her daughter’s father and his own mother are still in Odesa for now.

“We’re in touch with them all the time,” she said. “I’ve told them to come to Israel but they’ve decided they want to stay for now.”

Many of Tirnovienko’s daughter’s friends have also emigrated to Israel since the Russian invasion, although Alina’s own friends have stayed in Odesa so far.

“It’s meaningful for me to know that I’m doing something meaningful for people I know and love, who have gone through a very hard year,” she said. “Working in the matzah factory is working for God.”

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