Devorah Alevsky’s life’s work has been to help people. The daughter of Rabbi Zalman Kazen and Shula Kazen, Alevsky has taken on one of their projects, the Cleveland Kosher Food Pantry, and expanded it from delivering 300 bags of food weekly to delivering 4,000 bags monthly.
Started by her parents in response to the influx of Russian Jews in the 1970s, today the pantry serves Jews and non-Jews, offering nonperishable goods, dairy, produce and ceremonial foods for Jewish holidays.
Alevsky said the Kosher Food Pantry is open for walk-ins and delivers to six locations. In addition, it holds an outdoor “market” at Green Road Synagogue in Beachwood.
The Kazens started the pantry out of Congregation Zemach Zedek at 1922 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights. Rabbi Zalman Kazen went to bakeries and grocery stores to pick up surplus food on Saturday nights.
“I started helping them out,” Alevsky said. “That’s when I learned the ropes and did whatever needed to be done.”
Later, she relocated the operation to 2004 S. Green Road in South Euclid.
Born in Tashkent, the capital and largest city of Uzbekistan, in 1944, Alevsky’’s childhood was spent on the run from both the Communists and the Nazis.
“It was pretty complicated and pretty miraculous,” Alevsky said.
The family spent five years in a Paris chateau turned refugee center. In 1950, the family of eight immigrated to the United States with the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. In New York, they met Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, chief rabbi of the Chabad movement.
“He welcomed us and he took us in for a private audience,” Alevsky remembered. He encouraged the family to accept a placement in Cleveland.
“Wherever you go, you are a lamplighter,” Schneerson told her family, Alevsky said. “Help one another.”
Her father was hired as a chazan on High Holy Days and as the rabbi of Zemach Zedek. He also worked as a schocket at Coventry Poultry in Cleveland Heights. Her mother dove into Jewish life, reaching out to countless refugees as they arrived in Cleveland.
Alevsky graduated from Yavne High School for Girls, then went to Bais Yaakov Teachers Seminary in New York.
“I got married at 18” to Rabbi Leibel Alevsky, she said.
They lived in New York for 10 years. Rabbi Alevsky ran the Lubavitch Youth Organization. The Alevskys spent summers in Cleveland with the Kazens. Rabbi Alevsky led sessions at Case Western Reserve University’s Hillel called “Stump the Rabbi.”
The Alevskys moved to Cleveland to set up the city’s first Chabad House. Devorah Alevsky started Chabad House Women in Cleveland elevating Jewish observance and education.
Today, the Alevskys have set up 17 Chabad Houses in Cleveland, five staffed by their children, and six by grandchildren. Their other five children run Chabad Houses all over the world.
Devorah Alevsky keeps in mind the words of her grandmother.
“Trust in Him because the Communists are going to fall before we do,” she said, as well as the words of Schneerson. “Help every Jew as a brother or a sister without conditions.”
– Jane Kaufman