For Rabbi Joshua Heller, Passover is all about family.
He involves his three young children in each aspect of the eight-day holiday, beginning with the tradition of cleaning the house and removing all leavened bread before Passover begins.
On the evening of April 17, Heller and his wife Wendy helped their children search for bread products.
Using a candle, a feather and a wooden spoon, the kids were dispatched throughout the house to search for any chametz, or leavened bread, that might have been left behind.
Heller explained that for more than 2,000 years, Jewish families have searched for chametz this way on the night before Passover. They wait until after sunset and use a candle to illuminate corners that might otherwise be ignored. A feather is used to sweep any small crumbs that are found into a wooden spoon for disposal.
“This is based in the book of Exodus. We are told you are not supposed to see or have found any leavened products in your home,” Heller said.
For the Heller children – Caleb, Amelia and Ezra – the search is more symbolic. Their parents planted things like bread and donuts in sandwich bags around the living room that are easier for the youngsters to find.
“We do all these things as a way of getting the kids involved,” Heller said. “They are kept engaged in this process.”
Heller, the rabbi at Congregation B’nai Torah in Sandy Springs, said teaching children the history of Passover is one of the most important elements of the holiday.
“Part of it is we’re doing things differently to provoke questions,” Heller said. “It’s a chance for us to tell the story and provoke conversation. It’s a way to get out of your comfort zone without leaving your living or dining room.”
Passover is a holiday that recounts the Jews’ biblical exodus from Egypt. It is observed with a meal called a seder in which families eat symbolic food and tell the story of how the Jewish people were freed from slavery thousands of years ago.
Foods used in the seder include the maror, or bitter herbs, which represent the bitterness of slavery and wine, which represents redemption.
“The point is to make the exodus more real to Jews living very far away from the desert and the pharaoh,” Heller said. “When you tell the story of the past it helps you move ahead into the future.”
Heller said he has celebrated Passover with people who fled from places like Iran and the former Soviet Union, to whom the story of Exodus has special significance.
“To hear them tell their stories is amazing,” Heller said. “People around the world are still enslaved. They look to this story for inspiration.”