By LINDA M. LINONIS
For the Jewish people, Passover celebrates freedom of individuals and a nation. And what better way to revel in the occasion than to eat chocolate.
That’s just what a small group did recently as they participated in a Chocolate Seder at Congregation Rodef Shalom, 1119 Elm St. The pre-Passover event was sponsored by PJ Library and presented by Eran and Elior Liss, emissaries from Israel.
Passover begins at sundown today and ends at nightfall April 22.
On its website, www. pjlibrary.org, PJ Library is described as a “Jewish family engagement program implemented on a local level.” Participating families with children from 6 months up to 8 years old receive Jewish literature and music for children on a monthly basis.
The Lisses, who arrived in August, work at the Jewish Community Center, where they organize events dealing with Jewish life and culture. They also teach at Akiva Academy and Hebrew school. Both served in the Israeli military and are college graduates. He graduated from Hebrew University in Jersusalem with a bachelor’s in history and political science. She earned a degree in international relations and Middle East studies at Interdisciplinary Center of Hertzliya, Israel.
The couple said they believed this was the first Chocolate Seder in the Valley, though they have participated in them previously.
Seder itself means order, and the ritual meal is defined by symbolic foods and the Passover story. Passover remembers and celebrates the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt.
The Chocolate Seder strays from tradition in that it’s all about chocolate (and some other candy) and is geared to children. In place of the wine or grape juice at the traditional Seder, participants drank chocolate milk.
Rabbi Franklin Muller of Congregation Rodef Shalom led the Chocolate Seder, augmenting the written program with music as he accompanied himself on the guitar. He engaged the children by asking about their reading and coloring abilities and inquired about their milk mustaches.
“The Passover Chocolate Haggadah” prayer book outlines important elements of the Seder. It starts with the kadesh, the blessing over the meal, and ceremonial washing of hands, urchatz.
Children and their parents ate strawberries as the symbol of spring, when Passover occurs. A piece of chocolate matzah was broken, and the afikoman, part of the matzah to be eaten as dessert, is set aside.
At the Chocolate Seder, the storyteller asked who was Moses? Where were the Israelites slaves? Where did Moses lead them? What did God do for the people?
The rabbi emphasized the answers help teach children the story of the exodus from Egypt. The Seder also touches on the four questions traditionally asked by children as a method to teach the story of liberation. The traditional questions pertain to why the night of Passover is different from all other nights, and other questions pertain to symbolic foods that also provide a learning experience.
The Lisses used various food items to represent the plagues including red gelatin for blood (water into blood), Sno-caps for lice, Twizzlers for boils and licorice for hail.
Though the Chocolate Seder varies from the order of the Seder, Elior Liss said it can be an introduction to children.
Rabbi Muller compared the “chocolate high” to the joy the Israelites felt as they escaped Egypt and the oppression of slavery.
Aaron Hively and Melissa Bateman of New Middletown, who belong to Rodef Shalom, brought their children, Tres, 5; Blythe, 3; and Ezra, 14 months, to the event.
“We come to all the PJ Library events,” Hively said. “It’s a good way for the children to learn about Jewish life and culture. They have a lot of fun.”
Hively said the family looks forward to the PJ Library materials. At activities, he said, “The girls like the craft projects.”
“I like to make things,” Tres said.
Talia Hagler of Poland, a member of Congregation Ohev Tzedek in Boardman, brought her children, Abby, 3, and Eli, 5. “They like to participate in the activities,” Hagler said. “It’s a nice way to be with other Jewish families.”