Passover and Your Pooch



It is common knowledge that the eating of chametz is forbidden on Passover, but what do you do when your cat has been eating cans of chicken and gravy all year? What about your hamster that loves his oat-based treats?

Since Jewish law forbids even deriving benefit from chametz during Passover, your pet cannot consume it for the duration of the holiday, say many rabbinical authorities. In fact, it can’t even relieve itself on it.

Star-K asserts that one may not feed stray animals chametz, give zoo animals dispenser food (which may contain grains) or even allow pet litter to contain chametz during the holiday. If you choose to board your pet, you should be certain it will not be fed chametz, the Baltimore-based kashrut organization advises.

While the simplest solution may seem to be to sell your pet for Pesach, some Baltimoreans find it’s just too hard to part with Fido.

Karen Schwartzman has found a way to keep her pets happy and obey halacha. Years ago, she gave her dogs soft, prescription, chametz-free food for Passover, and they liked it so much she decided to switch them to it permanently. For hard food, she uses Taste of the Wild brand, a company that promotes a grain-free diet for dogs and cats.

“I wanted a high-quality food, and grain is not good for the dogs,” Schwartzman said in an email.

For the unsure pet owner, Star-K publishes a list of approved foods each year.

Rabbi Zvi Goldberg, who complies the list of foods for Star-K, said putting the register together is a lengthy process.

While the list is not all inclusive, the organization tries to include options for consumers at every income level. Those foods that are included are checked and double checked, first by an online ingredient search, then again in person when Goldberg visits local stores to read the ingredients listed on the packaging of the foods for sale.

“Many people want the list, and they want it early,” said Goldberg. “The pets have to be weaned off the regular food for a couple weeks and given the Passover food, so they want to know what’s available.”

Some stores, such as PetSmart, even keep a list on hand so employees can help customers determine which food is OK to purchase. The Owings Mills Petco, with the help of a rabbi, set up endcaps in their store that feature chametz-free foods for customers to purchase.

Other pet owners told the JT over Facebook that they feed their animals grain-free food all year, since many have trouble getting their pets to adjust to a new diet just for the holiday. If an owner prefers to switch only for Pesach, Star-K recommends weaning the pet off the regular food and onto the chametz-free variety slowly by mixing the two together. This gets the animal used to the flavor and texture of the food before it is the only kind available.

Introducing any changes to your animal must be done gradually, said dog behaviorist and obedience instructor Joy Freedman.

“If you’re going to change anything in a pet’s world, you always want to do half [old] and half [new],” she said.

Freedman feeds her own dogs a grain-free diet year-round because she says she doesn’t trust the quality of the grains used in pet food.

“If you ate McDonalds for a week and then you ate at Woodberry Kitchen, you’d have a similar effect,” remarked Freedman. “It takes a dog’s digestive track a long time — really like three days — to get used to any change in type of diet.”

She recommends basing your pet’s Passover diet on what he or she is already eating right now. If their food is chicken-based, center their holiday diet on chicken. If they usually eat beef, feed them beef with other foods, such as carrots, pumpkin or sweet potato, mixed in.

Many of the Jewish pet owners Freedman talks with keep their animals on a grain-free diet year-round.

“Switching the dog’s food can be more toxic to the dog’s system,” she said. “They will go through intestinal distress, and nobody wants to clean that during Passover to begin with.”

Confessions of a Chametz Buyer

Michael Hillard, buys breaded foods from the Jewish Community before Passover. (David Stuck)

Michael Hillard, buys breaded foods from the Jewish Community before Passover. (David Stuck)

The prohibition against eating leavened bread containing wheat, barley, oats, spelt and rye at Passover is well known. Some Ashkenazic authorities also prohibit the consumption of rice, millet, corn and legumes during the holiday, and most Jews make a point of cleaning their homes and cars, removing any crumbs that may have accumulated prior to Pesach.

What they don’t get rid of, they sell to a non-Jew for the duration of the holiday. Rabbis typically serve as the go-betweens, and in Baltimore, Rabbi Jeremy Benyowitz is one of several in the area who facilitate the sale. For the past four or five years, the rabbi has relied upon the assistance of Michael Hilliard, a former major in the Baltimore Police Department and now community services director for the Harbel Community Organization, a nonprofit in Northeast Baltimore.

Benyowitz’s mother, Naomi Benyowitz, is executive director of Harbel. Close colleagues, Hilliard and Benya-witz “put together one of the largest citizen’s patrols on the East Coast. It was based on the Northwest Baltimore Citizens Patrol,” said Hilliard.

“One day, Jeremy approached his mother looking for a trustworthy gentile who could buy the chametz,” said Hilliard. “Naomi suggested me.”

Before meeting Benyowitz, Hilliard knew a little bit about Passover but nothing about this particular custom. Yet, he was happy to help.

“I have been a devout Christian all of my life,” said Hilliard. “This is an opportunity to help others of great faith celebrate one of the most important holidays of the year. I feel it’s a worthwhile endeavor. I’m also interested in meeting people of other cultures. It gives me a chance to meet some special people.”

Hilliard described the annual transaction.

“I go to his apartment and he has stacks of documents. They are contracts that people have signed giving him the right to sell the chametz. “I don’t actually pay, but the whole idea is that it’s mine. I could go to someone’s house and take it if I wanted.”

The chametz that has been collected is not kept in Hilliard’s home. Instead it is stored in a locked cabinets in the homes of the sellers, but Hilliard holds the keys. After Passover, the rabbi comes back to Hilliard, who then offers to sell it back to him.

“I might say to him, ‘Oh, it has been a real burden, Rabbi,’” Hilliard said. “‘I haven’t been able to sell it. Could you buy it back?’”

In the past, Hilliard has “purchased” goats and sheep because they are fed fermented grain. He has even held the keys to a liquor store.

“I find it to be a unique and personally rewarding experience,” he said “If you’re a person of faith, you get it. If you’re not, you might not.”

Pesach With Flair

Passover is truly my favorite holiday.

Every year I like to add a unique dish to my table, making tradition relevant to the young people at the Seder. Two of my granddaughters, Jahna and Hannah, take French at school — and both enjoy eating crepes. So I decided to find the very best crepe recipe to include for Passover.

It turned into quite a challenge. (You could even say it made me meshuges.) My kitchen turned into a Passover crepe test kitchen, as I experimented with dozens of recipes to get the perfect Pesach crepe. Below is my final recipe.

For savory courses, I plan to stuff the crepes with leftover brisket, cholent or chicken. For those crepes, I changed the salt ingredient to onion salt for a more savory flavor. They can be dressed with gravy for a great leftover meal. For dessert, I will make some stuffed and frozen in advance with ice cream to serve with a drizzled warm chocolate sauce surrounded by little chocolate frogs. Frog molds can be found at

My newest favorite cookbook is “A Taste of Pesach,” a project of Yeshiva Me’on Hatorah in New York. Every recipe has a lovely color photo, and many are very creative, such as balsamic French roast and Hungarian brownies.

There are many new apps to help out with Passover planning this year. The Manischewitz Recipe & Holiday Guide is my favorite. It can be downloaded free to any Apple or Android device by searching for Manischewitz in the app stores. To everyone, have an “appy” Pesach!

Ilene’s Passover Crepes

Balsamic French Roast

Broccolini With Lemon Mustard Dressing

Hungarian Brownies

Tips & Tricks
• Don’t forget to use leftover, drained charoses to marble through mondel bread dough.
• You can use fresh asparagus or broccoli instead of broccolini, but broccolini will look and taste unique.
• Use the freshest farm-raised eggs for Passover. The yolks are vibrant, and the whites are richer — so good for beating up whites. It’s worth the trip to Faithful Friends Egg Farm (410-374-3432): $4 a dozen, with assorted colors from special chickens and an extra one for your Seder plate!

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

An Unleavened Market


Jean-Claude Neymann

For most Jews, matzah season comes once a year. But for Jean-Claude Neymann, matzah, or pain azyme in French, is a defining family tradition.

Neymann runs the oldest matzah bakery in France, located in the town of Wasselonne near the German border. The family company, Etablissements Rene Neymann, traces its matzah-making tradition to 1850.

“I’m the fifth generation of my family to bake matzah in Wasselonne,” said Neymann.

Walking along the steep, cobblestoned streets of Wasselonne, a city of nearly 6,000 people at the foot of the Vosges Mountains in northeastern France, is like stepping into a Grimm’s fairy tale. Timbered facades look more German than French, a reminder that Alsace and Lorraine have been shunted back and forth between two countries that regularly warred with each other in the not-so-distant past.

Salomon Neymann, a peddler and the father of this unleavened-bread dynasty, set up his first bakery in nearby Odratzheim, where he began to bake Passover matzah for his family and the local Jewish community. His matzah became popular, and by 1870 he and his son, Benoit, moved the factory to larger quarters in Wasselonne, a market city with an industrial district that also had the advantage of being the site of a flour mill.

The Etablissements Rene Neymann matzah factory is located in the  Alsatian city of Wasselonne. (Phtotos Courtesy of Etablissements Rene Neymann)

The Etablissements Rene Neymann matzah factory is located in the
Alsatian city of Wasselonne.
(Photos Courtesy of Etablissements Rene Neymann)

Between 1870 and 1919 the Neymann family manufactured regular and shmurah matzah in their factory, but Benoit Neymann’s youngest son, Rene, had bigger ideas for the company. In 1919 he industrialized production, changed the company name to Etablissements Rene Neymann and in 1930 began to market the wonders of unleavened bread to the non-Jewish public. It was a hit and sales grew.

After France fell to the Nazis in 1940, the bakery was shuttered, and the Neymann family was forced into exile in southern France.  Liberation came in November 1944 with the army of Gen. Phillipe Leclerc, and in 1948 Rene Neymann restarted the business.

The decades following World War II saw many changes in how people ate and shopped all over the world.

“Supermarkets started to replace traditional food markets, and eating a low-fat diet became fashionable,” Jean-Claude Neymann noted.

Robert Neymann, Rene’s son, seized the opportunities — he modernized and automated production, expanded the product lines and secured new
distribution outlets.

With Robert Neymann at the helm, Etablissements Rene Neymann continued to extend its products and brands by manufacturing other types of matzah for different tastes and appetites: matzah made from rye and whole-wheat flours; bran matzah; spelt matzah; certified organic matzah. Even Neymann’s kosher-for-Passover matzah, under the supervision of the chief rabbi of Strasbourg, is made from an array of flours.

Jean-Claude, Robert’s son, took over the company in 1983.

“Regular matzah is still our biggest Passover item, but about 62 percent of our total manufacturing output is sold outside France,” he said.

Signs of Passover

040414_Passover-signsJudy Harrow, assistant teacher at the Ben and Esther Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, shares her knowledge of American Sign Language with students year round. To commemorate the end of Jewish Disability Awareness Month, Harrow and teacher Barbara Stadd invited Leah Caplan, a hard-of-hearing member of the Jewish community, into the classroom to teach signs specific for the Passover holiday.

Caplan signed and spoke as she taught the class of 5- and 6-year-olds words for “Passover,” “Seder” and “matzah,” as well as the blessing over wine. Students introduced themselves to Caplan using ASL and also sang and signed the Shema for her at the end of the event. For all but one of the 17 students, Caplan was the first hard-of-hearing and signing person they had ever met.

Caplan is active with the Center for Jewish Education’s JADE program: Jewish Advocates for Deaf Education. Yael Zelinger, the coordinator of JADE, received the request from the kindergarten class and reached out to Caplan, who was happy to visit and teach.

The students had plenty of questions, many of which were about Caplan’s family and how she communicates with others.

Caplan, whose parents are both deaf, uses a hearing aid. She grew up signing in Hebrew with her Israeli father and in English with her American mother. The two sign languages are very different, she explained. Caplan’s two siblings are not hearing impaired; her husband is hard of hearing, and their three children, who attend the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, are not hearing impaired. From Caplan’s description, she has navigated back and forth through the hearing, deaf, hard-of-hearing, speaking and signing communities throughout her life.

“When I speak to my parents, I turn off my voice and sign because they can’t hear,” she both said and signed to the children.

The JADE program at CJE aims to raise awareness throughout the community about the needs of those who are deaf and hard of hearing. They provide workshops about how to talk to a deaf or hard-of-hearing person and will send a representative to a classroom, board meeting or community center.

“People should be familiar with how to take a [TTY relay] call from a deaf person,” said Zelinger. “The program provides tips on how to [feel comfortable and] look a [deaf] person in the eye when speaking and talk to them in first person.”

There are many tips for respectful communication with deaf and hard-of-hearing people that JADE can provide in a brief 30- to 40-minute program to help make conversations comfortable and productive. The organization will also invite a person with a specific disability to speak to a class, board or staff, said Zelinger.

JADE also has an interpreter fund, so that parents of deaf or hard of hearing children can bring an interpreter to a parent-teacher conference, a play or other activity so parents can gain full access to their child’s education. JADE also received a grant to pay a stipend toward interpreters at Jewish events to encourage accessibility for all who wish to attend.

The organization provides a list of Jewish language and culture-knowledgeable interpreters for hire as well.

“My goal is, I’m trying to find every deaf and hard-of-hearing person here in Baltimore,” declared Zelinger, “and get them access to the resources they need.”

New Haggadot Put Creative Spins on the Passover Story

040414_haggadahStan Lebovic needed to reconnect to the story of Passover. Reading the Haggadah felt like going through motions, and something wasn’t clicking for him.

“You go through every part and it’s like, ‘What am I missing?’” the Baltimore resident asked. “Most of what I’m saying, the Haggadah, is falling on deaf ears. I myself don’t appreciate it.”

So Lebovic, the son of a Holocaust survivor, wanted to find a way to connect the story to faith in a manner that could be passed down to the next generation.

The result of around five years of work is “Escape Velocity, A Post-Apocalyptic Passover Haggadah.” While it’s not meant to be used for the Seder service, the book serves as an enhancement to Passover, a philosophical examination of the deeper meaning of the story told through the eyes of someone whose family is a living testament to the survival of the Jewish people.

“The point of it isn’t really to use at the Seder,” explained Lebovic. “It’s more to inspire you to connect to what the Haggadah has to say on your own terms and bring that to the table to express to your children.”

Lebovic’s first book, 2011’s “Black is a Color,” offered his perspective on the Holocaust and the post-Holocaust world. His new book, released in February, somewhat continues on that theme.

“I was eager to see God in the light of day, rather than in the darkness I had experienced,” he said.

The book features Lebovic’s vivid artwork combining photographs and digital illustrations, and digs deeper into the Passover story by putting its characters, settings and symbols under a microscope. Lebovic examines these elements in terms of faith and survival.

“The existence of Torah, by itself, does not guarantee its survival, it must be written and read with our own lips,” the book’s preface reads.

Taking it digital
For the tech-savvy family looking for a new way to tell the story at Seder, the Bronfman Haggadah app is out just in time for Passover.

Using the book written by philanthropist Edgar Bronfman and illustrated by his wife Jan Aronson, the family-friendly app takes the book and adds narration, subtle animation, a biblical map and video discussions with the author and illustrator.

“If you have questions, you can go and search for meaning and other interpretations rather than what just might be quoted in your standard Haggadah,” said Aronson.

One of the elements that makes the Haggadah unique, she said, is how the book deals with God.

“Edgar and I did not believe in a supernatural God, so he referred to Godliness as doing the right thing, making the world a better place,” she said. “We don’t do any ‘Praise the Lord,’ we do praise doing the right thing, praise bringing the family together, praise asking questions, praise doing everything the Haggadah stands for. And I think that’s an important, not intellectual, but spiritual part of what the whole thing means.”

Aronson’s watercolor paintings illustrate the app by showing her interpretations of the main events and symbols of the Passover story. She aimed to create poetic imagery rather than force readers to think the images should look a certain way, she said.

The app also has a special significance for Aronson, as it was the last project she and her husband, who passed away on Dec. 21, 2013, worked on together. She said her late husband was “forward-thinking.”

“Edgar loved kids and he loved bringing Judaism to people who were maybe not absolutely committed, or if they were absolutely committed, then doing it in a different way,” she said. “It’s a sweet conclusion, I suppose, to the efforts that we both made on this collaboration.”

Other new Haggadot and related projects released in time for Passover include DipTwice, a website where users can create their own custom Haggadot, “30minute Seder” and “60minute Seder,” books that serve as beginner’s guides to Passover, “Pop Haggadah,” an Orthodox book with colorful graphics that walk readers through the story and commentary, and the “JDate Haggadah,” which gives the Seder a light-hearted, humorous tone.

See also Passover? There’s an App for That >>

Passover? There’s an App for That

The exodus from Egypt must be retold each year, but the retelling varies from family to family, generation to generation. Some cling to the Maxwell House Haggadah and all the memories wrapped within those pages while others continually update their own family Seder.

Now, the Haggadah has entered the age of technology. Enter the Haggadah app for the iPad as well as an e-book version entitled, “Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family” and so many more.

If not a complete app, some families plan to find relevant passages and discussion points and download them onto their smartphone, e-book or computer for use at their Seder table.

“I think this is wonderful,” said Rabbi Charles Simon, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. “Siddurim have been changing for thousands of years. That’s why we have so many of them.”

Whatever can be done to enrich the Seder is a positive development, Simon noted. He called the move toward using apps “a natural evolution” and said that if the Seder leader is talented, technology can be a welcome addition.

But not everyone views the addition of technology as optimistically as Simon. “As a traditional Jew, I struggle with anything electronic at the Seder or on any holiday,” said Erica Brown, scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

However, she stated in an email, “I believe that there are some great educational innovations and Jewish learning opportunities online that make many classic resources seem outdated. I’d personally love to see people download material in advance of the Seder.”

That way, no one will be tempted to quick check their emails, text someone or play Candy Crush during the service.

“They may be smartphones, but they are not smart enough to turn themselves off and put themselves away,” said Brown. “We have so much screen time already that makes us lose eye contact with each other.

“Respect the dignity of the meal and the story, and put the phones away,” she added. “There is nothing more important than the human connection with each other, and that is what we most need to achieve when we are at the Seder. That’s what creates continuity from one generation to the next.”

While Brown said she understood the desire to get information quickly off the Internet, “providing new recipes or great graphics and jokes for the Seder is not the same thing as helping people become fabulous storytellers of a remarkable story. Educators have a lot of work to do. It is sacred work.”

Eitan Gutin, director of Lifelong Learning at Tifereth Israel Congregation in D.C., said that while electronic devices are not something he would use during a holiday, family members have taken photographs during holidays, which he considers wonderful additions to his family’s heirlooms.

However, said Gutin, if the people at the Seder table are comfortable with the use of electronic devices, he could see how conversations would be enhanced. Perhaps only one shared device, rather than everyone using their own, would be a good compromise, he said.

One good way to use technology might be when the leader refers to his previously gathered discussion notes for help in keeping the conversation going, said Gutin. “It is not inherently positive or negative” as long as boundaries are set.

Rabbi Andrew Busch at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation said that while no one has ever asked him how he felt about the use of apps at the Seder, “My general position is we shouldn’t be scared of the technology. It’s a growing trend in everything. I am not at all surprised that people are using it.”

Erev Rosh Hashanah, his synagogue conducts an outside service in a park that attracts a lot of people. Apps and projection screens are utilized to make sure everyone can participate.

“It enables lots of people to come and see what we are doing,” he said.

Rabbi Jessica Lott, associate director for Jewish Life and Learning at University of Maryland’s Hillel, agreed with the view that the Haggadah continues to change, and apps offer more examples of that trend.

“I think for those of us who use technology on the holidays,” the addition of apps and information right at your fingertips is “exciting and interesting,” said Lott, adding that she knows people who use Skype to include family members who can’t make it home for the holiday.

When information or answers to questions can be obtained so quickly and so easily by just typing into a phone or other device, she wondered, why not use the Internet? “We jokingly say, ‘Ask Rabbi Google.’ ”

Welcome To Hollywood

Attendees at the third annual  Baltimore Hebrew Brotherhood Men’s Seder were treated to a  festive meal, a comedian/juggler and Jewish Hollywood trivia.

Attendees at the third annual Baltimore Hebrew Brotherhood Men’s Seder were treated to a festive meal, a   comedian/juggler and Jewish Hollywood trivia.

Sporting a matzah tie, Stuart Cohen cheerily led 90 men in a pre-Passover Seder Sunday at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. But this was no ordinary Seder.

It was the third annual Baltimore Hebrew Brotherhood Men’s Seder, and keeping with the tradition of having a theme, the topic was Jewish men of Hollywood.

“Hollywood is paved in Jewish influence,” said Dave Berenhaus, a past president of the brotherhood, who gave a presentation and quiz on Jewish Hollywood with Passover questions interspersed.

The brotherhood turned the social hall into a mini-Hollywood with a red carpet that attendees walked along and a stage where local comedian and juggler Michael Rosman performed between parts of the Seder.

After saying the blessing over the karpas, Ira Kolman, who wore a tuxedo and served as the master of ceremonies, did a “disappearing matzah” trick for the afikomen. After that, Rosman performed a feat few Seders will see this Passover.

“I’m going do a trick I really think captures the essence of the holiday,” he told the crowd.

To make a “matzah smore,” Rosman soaked a marshmallow in gasoline, lathered a piece of matzah with chocolate pudding and sprayed his shoe with cooking spray. He then placed the marshmallow on his shoe, lit it on fire and kicked it in the air to land on the matzah, which he was holding with his mouth. He did not eat the “smore.”

During the Jewish trivia presentation by Berenhaus, attendees learned about Jewish founders and CEOs of film studios, which actors had bar mitzvahs — the list includes Ben Stiller, David Arquette and Jack Black — what gefilte fish means (stuffed fish) and which actors have played God.

Berenhaus brought the men’s Seder to Baltimore Hebrew after learning about it from Men of Reform Judaism.

“The idea behind it being not so much a Seder, but male bonding,” he said.

Joe Boccuzzi, immediate past president of the brotherhood, likened the event to a family get-together.

“It’s like a holiday; you see friends and relatives you don’t normally see,” he said. “So, this is our time to come out and reconnect.”

Sid Bravmann, who chaired the event and made rounds of phone calls to pack the hall, said he likes the challenge of ramping up attendance.

“It takes me out of my personal comfort zone and allows me to reward others,” he said.

The event built on the previous years’ themes — great Jewish men and Jewish men of comedy.

Kolman, the event’s emcee, said the story of Hollywood is a testament to the Jewish people, who made up “100 percent of the founders.” He added that Hollywood was founded as an outlet for Jews who had other skills but couldn’t find work in the U.S. in their trade.

“The American establishment wouldn’t let us into society, so we created our own,” he said.

Kolman said the Seder was proof of the power of the brotherhood.

“We like to pray together, learn together and eat together,” he said.

That message wasn’t lost on the Seder’s younger attendees.

Benjamin Boccuzzi, 17, who was there with his father, Joe, said he thought the theme catered to all the age groups at the Seder and saw value in joining the brotherhood in the future.

“You see everyone you’re connected to in the community,” he said.

Opening The Eyes of Children to Passover’s Miracles

We are about to sit around the Seder table with our families and do what we do best, ask questions. Why is this night different from all other nights? Why do we dip twice? We encourage young and old to ask, ask, ask. Through the wisdom of our tradition, answers unfold before our eyes. It is a paradox. We encourage all to question and then, go right ahead and expect that we should believe. The staff turned into a snake. The Red Sea parted. How do we make the transition from questioning to a leap of faith? We do this by embracing all of life, by noticing the miracle in all of God’s creations. We teach our children to question and believe, all at once.
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