Jewish families donate leavened food in observation of Passover

Unopened, nonperishable goods will help stock a new food pantry

March 25, 2013|By Alison Matas, The Baltimore Sun

Passover is seen traditionally as a holiday of the spring, not usually marked by snow.

But Howard Kaplan and his wife, Roberta, of Baltimore, wouldn't let Monday's inclement conditions deter them from coming to the Pimlico Race Course to dispose of their leavened food.

"Snow won't hold anybody up," she said.

Baltimore-area families burned their chametz Monday morning in observation of Passover. The holiday commemorates God's freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. Because the Jewish people had to leave Egypt quickly, they had to eat their bread before it had risen. No leavened food is consumed during the eight-day period of Passover, which began Monday, and families cannot keep any of it in their homes.

Usually, people burn or throw away their leavened food at the annual event, but this year marked the first time they were encouraged to donate it. Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. and Park Heights Renaissance have partnered to open a food pantry in April at the Towanda Community Center, and the unopened, nonperishable food donated Monday will stock its shelves.

Betsy Gardner, who organized the food drive and serves as the Northwest and Jewish community liaison for City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, said the donations will help meet a need in Park Heights while eliminating waste.

"Watching people throw away so much food, it's heart-wrenching," she said.

Gardner said she didn't know how much food people had contributed as of midmorning but added that she hoped to fill an entire U-Haul truck by the end of the day.

Many people who were at the race course said they hadn't been aware they could bring food to donate but thought it was a good idea.

As he prepared to burn chametz Monday, Yisroel Rabinowitz of Baltimore scarfed down a few bites of a chocolate-chip muffin—his last taste of leavened food before dropping the muffin wrapper and some slices of bread in the fire with his father. Other people pulled hot dog buns, rolls and protein bars out of grocery bags and placed them in the fire.

After burning their chametz, the Kaplan family huddled together and recited a declaration stating their known leavened products were no longer in their possession.

Benjamin Kaplan, 20, son of Howard and Roberta Kaplan, said burning chametz has spiritual as well as practical implications. Giving up the food is a metaphor for getting rid of any undesirable quality or trait.

And for Gabrielle Burger, of Baltimore, who burned bagels and challah with her stepfamily, tossing the food in the fire was symbolic because it was the physical representation of a complete purging.

"It brings it to light," she said.

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