SALT LAKE CITY — The clattering of rolling pins slowed as a local youth rabbi explained the next step in the matzah dough-making process.
One must smell it and one must “qualify (their) nose for the job,” Rabbi Avremi Zippel of the Chabad Lubavitch of Utah told them.
First, he said, put your index finger in the air. Then swirl it in the flour on the table. Finally, touch your finger to your nose, “just as such,” Rabbi Zippel said, showing the youths by example as the adults in the room laughed at his joke.
During a Sunday afternoon workshop, Rabbi Zippel and his wife, Sheina, took the children and youths through a series of crafts and activities designed to help prepare them for Passover. Children as young as 2 participated, one girl in particular barely taller than the table her matza dough lay on.
"Passover is not widely celebrated in Utah," Rabbi Zippel said. "When you actually get involved in these events, when you feel unique, when you feel proud to be a Jew, you feel part of a wider picture, you feel part of a wider religion, that I believe gives children … foundations to be proud members of their heritage and to share it with their family one day.”
Passover, which began Friday, April 3, is a central observance on the Jewish calendar. Some Jews prepare for weeks to be ready for the holiday that is full of symbolism designed to help Jews grow spiritually. During the Seder, a child will ask, "Why is this night different than all other nights?"
It marks the flight of the Jews from Egypt in ancient times. The Jews had to leave Egypt so quickly that the bread they were making did not have time to rise, according to tradition. To commemorate this, Jews eat matzah, or bread that has not yet risen, during Passover.
In preparation for the Passover, Jews are asked to get rid of any food that might contain leaven — yeast or other substances that cause bread to rise. Depending on the individual, some may spend weeks cleaning their homes and cars and will burn or give away any remaining leaven.
Matzah also symbolizes one's wilingness to be humble, Rabbi Zippel said. Getting rid of the bread is a reminder to Jews of the need to let go of pride.
“The preparations are a set of symbolic representations of one of the essential themes of Judaism which is exile and redemption," said Leonard Rosenband, a history professor at Utah State University.
Passover is observed over eight days and includes two Seder meals, additional festive meals, restrictions of work that can be done and special prayers, services and readings from the Haggadah, a text that includes the Exodus story.
Jews and non-Jews are commonly invited to the first Seder, held on the first night of Passover. Each is encouraged to act as if he or she were part of the Exodus out of Egypt, according to Chabad.org.
Food and actions symbolize the captivity of ancient Israelites, 10 plagues that Jews believe God sent to punish the pharaoh, and the ancient people's escape from the Egyptians.
For instance, participants learn at times to represent their status as a free people and dip vegetables in salt water and eat them, which represents the tears shed by their ancestors who were slaves in Egypt.
Remembering the suffering of those who have gone before is supposed to help Jews see how they can become liberated and help those around them, according to Rabbi Jim Simon of the Temple Har Shalom in Park City.
Jews are to ask, "How am I not free? How can I make sure that this coming year is a year of authentic freedom where I will liberate myself from those things that are enslaving me?” he said.
The modern bondage can be literal or take shape in the form of addictions, habits or other restrictions of their liberty.
"If they’re willing to do a little bit of (thinking) they pretty much know where they are free, where are they not free, and what they can do about it," Rabbi Simon said.
Passover is also an opportunity for Jews to internalize feelings of freedom and liberation.
"The challenge is that on Passover each person celebrating it should feel … that right now I’m experiencing freedom," Rabbi Zippel said.
At the Chabad's mock Seder, children made matzah trays and pockets, learned how to make their own Seder plate and, as mentioned earlier, rolled their own matzah.
"Children should have their curiosity piqued. They should see matzah — what is matzah? Why matzah? How matzah? How do you make a Seder plate? What is a Seder plate," Rabbi Zippel said.
"And by them engaging in these questions and by them engaging in what exactly are we doing — and more importantly why are we doing it and how are we doing it — we feel that will give them the tools that at their Seder or in years to come when they’re experiencing Pesach (Passover) that members of their family … will be active, proud members of the heritage."