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Students learn the basics of Passover

ELDERSBURG - It was a time to ask questions, to dip pinky fingers into wine, to throw plastic frogs on the table, to flick the lights off - just for a split second - to the shrieks of 15 children.

For the Hebrew Learning Center's students ages 7 to almost 12, it was the time to learn about Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, at Carroll County Public Library's Eldersburg branch Thursday. The holiday starts Monday and celebrates the Jewish people's Moses-led exodus from ancient Egypt, freeing them from slavery.

Every year, to commemorate the liberation, Jews around the world hold a night, or two, of rituals and feasting, called a Seder. And on Thursday, the Hebrew Learning Center's teachers - Barbara Arbesman, Alty Jakobovits and Rachel Shar - had the 15 children gather around three tables for a mock Seder.

"The kids walk away, and they know what a Seder is and what the symbols of the Seder are," Arbesman said, "and that's what we're hoping for."

That's because the Passover Seder is about tradition. Seder means order, and every year, the same rituals are performed in the same order, so that future generations "will all know the story of how we were saved in Egypt," Shar told the group.

To begin the Seder, each child held up a plastic cup filled with grape juice, as a blessing was said over the drink. Then a series of other traditions ensued.

Sophie Louis, 10, of Eldersburg, was the representative chosen to wash her hands in front of the group, which symbolizes being clean before starting a service.

Then, parsley was handed out.

"Who knows what we do with it?" Shar asked.

"We dip it into salt water," Hayden Ellis, 9, of Sykesville, replied. This symbolizes tears.

Matzah - unleavened bread - was broken. Jakobovits told the group Jews eat this on Passover because when their people left ancient Egypt, there was no time for the bread to rise.

This answers one of the "Four Questions" - a traditional song the children chanted in Hebrew and sang in English that asks "why this night is different than all the other nights."

Later, Jakobovits tested the children's knowledge, asking how many plagues the Jewish people believe God afflicted upon the ancient Egyptians.

"Ten," replied Hannah Kramer, 11, of Westminster. Then she and the other children proceeded to dip their pinky fingers into their cups of grape juice, and place a dot of juice on their napkin 10 times - one for each plague.

Arbesman placed a plastic bottle of red juice on the table for the first plague, when it is believed the waters of the land turned to blood. She threw plastic frogs on the table for the second plague, when it is believed frogs swarmed the land. And when she got to the plague of darkness, she flicked the lights off, as the children screamed.

Arbesman said she takes a light-hearted approach to teaching the children about the Seder, hoping they take a few messages home but, also, enjoy themselves.

"If the kids can remember how the frogs were thrown on their table - if that's all they can remember - then I'm happy," she said.

Connor Zimmerman, 8, of Reisterstown, said he learned a lot, such as why matzah is unleavened.

At about 6 p.m., the less than an hour-long Seder was over. The children put on their coats and their backpacks and filed out the door to meet their parents to the sounds of their teachers wishing them a happy Passover.

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