BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Baltimore’s Jewish community begins the celebration of Passover Monday evening. The holiday commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt.
Ron Matz reports preparations for the holiday are underway with a tradition that’s been a part of Baltimore for nearly 30 years.
In the shadows of Pimlico Race Course, there are flames and prayers for Passover.
This is the burning of the Chometz, getting rid of all leavened bread before Passover.
Dr. Bert Miller started the community event in 1982. It happens just hours before the Seder.
“I was living in the Glen View Apartments back in 1980. It was the day before Passover and it was time to burn the leavened bread. I noticed an elderly gentleman doing it on his porch. Someone thought there was a fire and the fire department came rushing up and here was just an elderly gentleman trying to burn some bread before Passover. So I realized there had to be a better solution and I organized this in 1982. The first year we had about 200 participants. This year we’re expecting close to 6,000,” said Miller.
This pre-Passover tradition used to take place at the Glen Avenue fire house, but it was moved to Pimlico three years ago.
“We do this from 6:30 to 11:30 a.m. and it’s in partnership with the Department of Public Works, the police department and the Department of Transportation. We would not be able to do this if we didn’t have the partnership of the Maryland Jockey Club. They have been gracious in donating their property to us, as well as having people out here directing traffic and helping us set up. They’re just a great partner,” said Betsy Gardener, mayor’s Jewish Community liaison. “We moved it from the Glen Avenue Fire Station because of the growth of the Jewish community. This way we have it here on the parking lot at Pimlico. People can get in and get out safely. They can bring their children, they can talk with neighbors. This way we are assured they’re safe. It’s a family event.”
“We have to get rid of our leavened before the Passover holiday and we do it traditionally by burning. If some parents aren’t careful and they trust the children to do the burning in the backyard the children can be injured, so this is a tremendous benefit for the community,” said Miller.
A lot of children were among the 3,000 people coming there Monday.
“We converted to Judaism some years ago and this is one of the things that Jews do every year at Pesach. We search for Chometz in our home and clean our home. Afterwards we have a community burning to symbolize some of the things that the Jews have gone through the last year,” said Chanah Denton of Northwest Baltimore.
Passover is a time to remember.
“Passover is probably the oldest religious ritual on the planet. The famous part of Passover is the festive meal which occurs tonight, where the Torah requires us to explain the whole Passover story to our children,” said Miller. “We have the festive meal tonight, the burning of the bread this morning and last night we checked our homes to make sure we had no leavened materials, any leavened bread that we were unaware of. We have to get totally rid of it according to biblical commandments.”
To offset the cost of Monday’s activities, participants were asked to make a $2 donation. Passover lasts for eight days.