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Published: Saturday, 4/7/2001

West Toledo synagogue gets most from Jewish holiday

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

In one room at Temple B'nai Israel, a rabbi instructs a small class on the details of making matzah, or unleavened bread, from water and flour.

Around the corner, a group of 20 people, most of them women, gather at a kitchen stove and cheer each other on as they take turns frying dough for chicken blintzes.

In another room, a rabbi instructs several attentive adults on ways to add to, subtract from, and modify the family's traditional Passover Seder.

Down a long corridor, parents sit around a table discussing ways to keep young children's interest.

Welcome to Passover University, an evening of classes held annually at the West Toledo synagogue to make the Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins tonight, a more enriching experience.

The eight-day Passover celebration marks the Jews' escape from slavery in Egypt, after the Lord struck the land with plagues until Pharaoh gave in to Moses' repeated pleas to “Let my people go.”

It is the first major Jewish festival mentioned in the Bible and it is observed by more Jews than any other holiday, according to The Jewish Book of Why. The holiday is celebrated with a Seder, or ritual, that includes the telling of the exodus story as outlined in a prayer book, or Haggadah, along with songs, games, and a Passover meal.

About 75 people attended this year's Passover University, held on a recent Thursday night, according to Albie Romanoff, synagogue administrator.

Rabbi Shmuly Rothman of Chabad House-Lubavitch gave a thorough presentation on the making of matzah, including setting up a “model matzah bakery” in one of the temple's rooms.

The loaves of unleavened matzah, known as “the bread of affliction,” are made of water and flour only and symbolize the Jews' hasty departure from Egypt. As it states in the book of Exodus, “They took up their dough before it had time to leaven.”

It is extremely important in Jewish law for homes to be cleansed of all leaven before Passover begins, and Rabbi Rothman told the class that some Jewish families go so far as to have new plumbing hooked up to their kitchen sink because “you never know what might have crawled into the pipes.”

Some members of the class said they pour hot water down the sink to cleanse the pipes, which the rabbi said was perfectly acceptable. He personally has rented a new stove and refrigerator for his apartment during Passover to ensure that they are free from leaven, or chametz.

The leaven represents the remnants of the slave experience in Egypt, so ridding themselves of chametz symbolizes the Jews' freedom from bondage.

Sheri Knauth, youth director at Temple B'nai Israel, taught a class on keeping children's interest during the Passover Seder.

She stressed that children are not “small adults” and need to participate in Passover songs and activities. They should understand what is taking place during the Seder and also experience “warm Kodak moments.”

Ms. Knauth said there is a wealth of information available on the Internet, just by entering the word “Passover” on an Internet search engine. She passed out papers that included explanations of Passover traditions in different countries, facts about matzah, and an amusing “interview” of Moses by Kermit the Frog.

Fagie Benstein, a past president of Temple B'nai Israel, led the lively class in Passover cooking.

There are a limited number of ingredients deemed kosher for Passover, which can inspire creativity in the kitchen. Joanne Rubin, one of the students in the cooking class, said she regularly attends Passover University to get new recipes.

“There are some old standbys you keep because they've become family tradition,” Mr. Rubin said. “They get passed down from one generation to another. But at the same time, it's nice to learn recipes for new side dishes.”

Rabbi Michael Unger of Temple B'nai Israel taught a class titled “Haggadah for Dummies,” exploring the components of a Passover Seder and how to modify the family's traditional observance.



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