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Celebrating Passover around the JCC

JCC ECDP student Levi Sickles tastes the bitterness of the bitter herb (parsley) on his seder plate.

Asking questions is an important part of Passover. And as is custom, the youngest people at the table ask the four questions during the seder. Nathan Rosenberg, 2, was probably just practicing when he asked if the rabbits in the story could replace horseradish with carrots on their seder plates.

“Well, in the story they didn’t,” said Carolyn Weinberg, the storyteller and PJ Library in CNY coordinator, as she closed the book which had started the discussion. The book, Hoppy Passover, is a tale about a family of bunnies who were getting ready to celebrate Pesach—just like Nathan and his classmates in the Jerome and Phyllis Charney Early Childhood Development Program at the Sam Pomeranz Jewish Community Center of Syracuse.

“I love it when they ask all these questions,” said Weinberg. “It shows they are engaging with traditions and making them their own.”

Children in the JCC's Jerome and Phyllis Charney Early Childhood Development Program begin enjoying their Passover seder meal on March 28. Pictured from left is Avery Cote (partially visible), Quinn Malzman, Henry Russell,  Lucas Meyerhoefer and Maggie Ondrako.
Children in the JCC's Jerome and Phyllis Charney Early Childhood Development Program begin enjoying their Passover seder meal on March 28. Pictured from left is Avery Cote (partially visible), Quinn Malzman, Henry Russell, Lucas Meyerhoefer and Maggie Ondrako.

PJ Library is a worldwide program that seeks to help preschoolers learn about Judaism and inculcate a habit of reading through simple children’s stories. Every month, PJ Library sends three storybooks books to the homes of the children registered with them. Weinberg brings these books to the ECDP once a month and reads to the children and allows them to ask questions.

The next day, the ECDP children actually had a seder of their own.

“It’s like the bunny family,” Nathan said happily as his teachers decorated a basic seder plate for every child in the class. “Horseradish is not so bad,” he added after taking a bite of his matzah-maror sandwich.”

And so, the Seder continued. While the children said amen as the teachers read the blessings over their grape juice, in another part of the JCC the same blessings were being spoken over a cup of wine. Like the youngest members of the JCC, seniors in the JCC’s Bobbi Epstein Lewis Senior Adult Dining Program were celebrating their own seder led by Rabbi Evan Shore of Shaarei Torah Orthodox Congregation of Syracuse.

Rabbi Shore (standing, far left) begins the JCC senior lunch Passover seder celebration on March 28.
Rabbi Shore (standing, far left) begins the JCC senior lunch Passover seder celebration on March 28.

After the meal, the Keyna Hora Klezmer band serenaded the gathered community with some popular songs from Yiddish theater. The performance included favorite tunes like Glik (performed by Lisa Levens), Mah Nishtana (performed by Cheryl Wolfe), Zug Es Mir Nukhamol (performed by Chongchun Chen) and, of course, the holiday staple Dayenu in which the entire ensemble and the audience members participated.

During the performance of numbers like Yid’l Mit’n Fid’l and Rozhinkes Mit Mandlin, some in attendance could not help but stand up and start dancing the hora.

For Linda D’Imperio, one of the dancers of the band, this was an absolutely heartwarming thing.

“It just shows that there is no such thing as too old,” she said, trying to catch her breath. “Some of them are over 90 but here they are, dancing and singing because it is Passover. It reminds me of when I was a child. I used to dance to folk tunes when they were played on the radio. I imagine many of these people did too.”

She is absolutely right.

Rabbi Shore begins to describe the various items on the Passover seder plate as several students from the Syracuse Hebrew Day School in the background, who were there to help rabbi with some of songs, look on.
Rabbi Shore begins to describe the various items on the Passover seder plate as several students from the Syracuse Hebrew Day School in the background, who were there to help rabbi with some of songs, look on.

For Shirley “Shush” Martin, this program was a reminder of everything she had loved as a little girl.

“My family spoke Yiddish… This music, these songs, they make me so happy,” Martin said emotionally. “I understand every word and it feels like only yesterday that I heard these songs from my father.”

And that brought this Passover celebration full-circle for her because she also became a great-grandma on the 25th of March. “He is seven pounds and his name is Samwell, and I am very proud,” she said.

Needless to say, the JCC’s seniors felt a special connection with Martin and others during the senior lunch program’s Passover seder. And every celebration is a collection of these moments. They are not always as obvious as the birth of a child. Sometimes, they are the expressions of wonder on the faces of children like Nathan, when he realized that the horseradish wasn’t so bad, especially when eaten with Matzah and Charoset.

 

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