Newcomers young and old to observe first Passover Russian immigrants will share in Jewish holiday.

April 17, 1992|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

Tonight Hershel Boehm's 3-day-old daughter, so new to the world that she doesn't have a name, and Yakov Gendin, a 62-year-old Russian psychiatrist so new to the United States that he doesn't have a job, will each enjoy a first -- the Passover Seder.

Jewish families across Maryland will sit down to the richly symbolic dinner that recalls Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt and out of slavery.

Tonight's Seder begins eight days' observance of Passover, the spring festival of renewal so named for the story in Exodus in which God visits a final plague on Pharoah -- striking down the firstborn of every Egyptian family, but passing over the Hebrews.

The holiday is a time for family and friends, and for passing down millenniums-old traditions across the generations at Passover Sedarim.

Dr. Gendin, who emigrated to Baltimore two months ago, has been invited to the home of an American family tonight.

"It will be the first Seder in my life," he said. "I grew up in Moscow, and I heard that Jewish holidays existed, but I never in my life celebrated a Jewish holiday, unfortunately."

The Seder can be "a very emotional experience for people going through their own exodus," said Judy Richter, assistant to the dean at Baltimore Hebrew University.

The university held a model Seder last week as part of a "Jewish Survival Skills" class for immigrants. Nearly 50 people took part, including Dr. Gendin.

"We related people's experiences to the experiences of the Jews coming out of Egypt -- how hard it is to be an immigrant, what it means to leave one's culture," Ms. Richter said.

Instructor Bella Gelfand, a fellow immigrant who is fluent in English, helped show the symbolic foods of Passover: matzo (unleavened bread), roasted egg, parsley, salt water, horseradish, haroseth (chopped apples, nuts and wine), a lamb's shank bone and four cups of wine.

In the Haggada, or Passover liturgy, each food has several layers of meaning, and each suggests answers to the ritual question: "Why is this night different from all other nights?"

Class member Gregory Elkin, 74, another immigrant from the former Soviet Union, recalled yesterday attending his first Passover Seder here two years ago.

"When I was a little boy in [what is now Belarus] our grandparents kept Jewish traditions. But at the age of 16 I came to Moscow and forgot about Jewish life," he said.

"This Seder gave me an opportunity to remember my childhood. For 50 years there was no Seder in my life. After 50 years, when your childhood returns, it's very exciting."

Tonight, class member Alexander Friedland, 66, an immigrant from Ukraine who came here two years ago not knowing a letter of Hebrew, will lead his first Seder.

"This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt," he will say in those or similar words. "All who hunger, let them come and eat; all who are in need, let them come and celebrate the Passover. Now we are here; next year we shall be in the land of Israel. Now we are slaves; next year we shall be free."

Mr. Friedland will sit down with his extended family of eight, reborn as a Jew. "Now I can touch with my own fingers a little bit of Jewish culture, history and life," he said.

Ms. Richter will have 22 people at Seder tonight, including a Russian family. Hershel Boehm, co-owner of the kosher Seven Mile Market, will break matzo with a dozen family members, including his new daughter. Martin Lev, owner of Pikesville's Edmart Delicatessen, will celebrate with 24.

Yesterday, Mr. Lev was doing a brisk business in Passover rolls, flourless cakes and cookies, gefilte fish, chopped liver and horseradish. By this afternoon all the "hametz," or food that is not kosher for Passover, will be taken out of the deli.

"After 34 years operating this business, it's second nature," Mr. Lev said.

For observant Jews who clear all the "hametz" out of their homes, the American Jewish Congress has a suggestion: Donate it to the Maryland Food Bank. Barrels were set out at strategic dropoff points in northwest Baltimore and Pikesville. Last year a ton of food was donated for use in food pantries, soup kitchens, hospices and shelters.

At Seven Mile Market, Mr. Boehm was fielding constant questions from customers. Ask in Yiddish, and it shall be answered in Yiddish.

"May I use canola oil in making my matzo balls?" Try cottonseed oil, kosher for Passover. "Do you have Passover jellies?" Aisle 8.

Seven Mile offered three full aisles of special kosher-for-Passover products, including fluoride toothpaste, silver polish, dinosaur milk chocolate pops and South African matzot.

Today, Mr. Boehm will put away or cover up all the "hametz" and sell it to a non-Jewish employee. After Passover, he will buy it all back.

This week Seven Mile will sell 200 cases of horseradish, a Passover Seder staple symbolic of the bitterness of the Jews' bondage in Egypt, compared with six in a typical week.

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