ALTHOUGH Passover doesn't begin until March 27, residents of Vantage House, a retirement community in Town Center, participated in a Seder last week, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Howard County and the Cantors' Association of Greater Baltimore.
"The purpose of holding the Seder is not only to recall the events of the Exodus from Egypt, which happened some 3,300 years ago, but to actually relive those events, to feel as if we had been slaves in Egypt ourselves and that we had been freed, liberated from slavery," said Abe Golinkin, one of three cantors who participated in the Seder at Vantage House.
"We do that by gathering together and retelling the story of the Exodus. Normally, this observance is done in the context of the family; it's held at home. But in this case, the residents of Vantage House are not living with their families, so we wanted to bring the Seder to them."
Golinkin, of Oakland Mills, works with the National Institute for Hebrew Literacy, whose mission is to teach Jewish adults to read Hebrew. Alan Rubinstein, cantor of Bolton Street Synagogue in Baltimore, and Margery Auerbach, cantor of Bet Aviv in Columbia, also participated. Rubinstein lives in Wilde Lake village. Auerbach lives in Silver Spring.
Golinkin explained that bitter herbs and matzo are ingredients of a traditional Seder meal.
"The bitter herbs represent the bitterness of slavery in Egypt," Golinkin said. "By eating that, we empathize with our ancestors and all people who are oppressed. The matzo, which is the unleavened bread we eat at the Seder and for the entire eight days of the Passover holiday, reminds us of God's liberation of the Jewish people. In the story of the Exodus, the Jewish slaves were in haste to leave Egypt. They took with them their dough, which did not have a chance to rise, and they carried it with them as they left Egypt."
Rubinstein said that the Seder held at Vantage House did not include the traditional Seder meal, but focused on the story of the Exodus and the musical customs and traditions associated with Passover.
"Because we had three cantors, we all had different parts of our heritage that we emphasized. We used solo singing, chanting, improvisation and instruments," Rubinstein said."
"The singing we did is very much a part of the Seder," Golinkin explained. "There are many familiar songs which are traditional in the Seder ceremony. By singing those songs, it gives us a sense of community and it brings back memories to the residents of Vantage House of Seders from their past."
The Harper's Choice Music Boosters Foundation will sponsor an evening of music at the middle school from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. today. "Sweet Serenades" will give music students at the school an opportunity to perform in a smaller, more casual setting while the audience enjoys dessert - and the talents of the school's musicians.
Jill Lapides, president of the music boosters, said her group was formed about a year ago. "We wanted to provide support to the band, strings and chorus programs at our school," she said.
Parents John Catizone, Dan McGrain and Beverly Parks also serve as officers for the boosters organization.
Lapides estimates that 50 percent of the school's population participates in music programs at Harper's Choice Middle School. The music boosters raise money to purchase instruments and have old instruments serviced for the students' use.
"One of the goals of the group is that if the school can't provide a student with an instrument on loan and the student can't afford to rent one, we hope to support their musical interests. We don't want to discourage anyone from participating because of economic constraints," Lapides said.
She credits music teachers Nick Ellis (band), Sue Brisco (chorus) and David Shumway (strings) for the school's excellent music program.
Tickets for "Sweet Serenades" are $5 for adults and $3 for students. Children to age 11 will be admitted free when accompanied by an adult.
Each year, the National PTA sponsors the Reflections program, which challenges students to create art that interprets an assigned theme. This year's theme was: "I Hold in My Hand ... " Young artists participate through their local PTA or PTSA.
At Atholton High School, students recognized at the school level of the competition were Caitlin Kelly, Michele McDonagh, Holly Hall and Julia Winters in the photography category; Lauren Byrnes in the visual arts category; Amanda Schmidt in the musical composition category; and Lauren Byrnes and Robert Grimm in the literature category.
Atholton's PTSA Reflections chairwoman, Mary Byrnes, thanks the school's art teacher, Scott Brenfleck, for his part in encouraging the students' participation in the contest. "He really inspires the students to do their best and to share their work with others," she said.