PORTLAND – Passover doesn’t officially begin until sundown Monday, but members of the Greater Portland Jewish community were busy Sunday preparing for one of their religion’s most important holidays.

The eight-day festival will end Tuesday, April 2.

At Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh on Noyes Street in Portland, volunteers Gail Lerman, Dr. Natan Kahn and his wife, Orly Kahn, all of Portland, spent several hours on Sunday preparing dishes for the synagogue’s Tuesday night community seder meal.

Rabbi Moshe Wilansky, director of Chabad Lubavitch of Maine, and his family stayed up late Sunday night kashering, or sterilizing pots and dishes, and searched for chametz — leavened bread and foods made with leavened grains — using a feather to sweep the crumbs into a wooden spoon.

Wilansky, who placed the chametz in a paper bag, said he will burn the chametz in his backyard Monday morning.

The Jewish Community Alliance, which is based in Portland, distributed seder meals to members of the Jewish faith who live in nursing homes Sunday morning, according to its website.

“The time before Passover is a very busy time because we are commanded to remove all leavened bread and substances from the home,” said Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld of Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh. “Everyone is going crazy searching their homes and cars.”

Those items will either be burned or sold to people, who are not members of the Jewish faith, Herzfeld said.

Passover is celebrated in the early spring and commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. By following the rituals of Passover, members of the Jewish faith relive and experience the freedom that their ancestors gained.

“It’s an important time of the year to think about what you can do for others,” said Lerman.

Lerman and the Kahns made chicken soup, matzah, or flat, unleavened bread, a potato kugel casserole (grated potatoes and onions baked in an oven) and tsimmez, a carrot and potato stew.

“You just hope this year, after our seder, that the world will be in a better place,” said Lerman, who operates a window-dressing store.

According to Chabad Lubavitch of Maine’s website, Passover took place when God sent Moses to the pharoah of Egypt asking that the Jewish people be set free. When the pharoah ignored Moses’ request, 10 devastating plagues afflicted the Egyptian people, killing all of their firstborn.

The children of Israel were “passed over,” which is where the name for Passover orginated.

The Israelites were driven out of Egypt, but left in such a hurry that the bread they baked did not have time to rise.

To commemorate the unleavened bread that the Israelites ate when they left Egypt, members of the Jewish faith do not eat or retain in their possession any leavened grains or any foods or drinks that contain a trace of wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt or their derivatives.

All such foods must be purged from a home, culminating with ceremonial search for chametz on the night before Passover and a ceremonial burning of the chametz on the morning before Passover begins.

At Wilansky’s home on Craigie Street, the house was filled with people and activity as preparations for a Monday night seder were under way. About 65 people are expected to attend the meal. His wife, Chana, stuffed a tray containing several slabs of gluten-free gefilte fish into her oven.

The kitchen table was piled high with peeled apples, carrots and lemons. Wilansky said they will make their own apple sauce.

During the seder meal, participants may eat matzah and bitter herbs to commemorate the bitter slavery endured by the Israelites, drink four cups of wine or grape juice and recite the Haggadah, a liturgy that describes the exodus from Egypt.

Herzfeld said food is a very important part of Passover. He commended Hannaford, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s for stocking more kosher foods this spring.

“The kosher shopper has to hit a bunch of different supermarkets to put together a meal but it’s good to see more Passover food available this year than in past years,” Herzfeld said.

Julie Greene, manager of Hannaford’s Healthy Living Department, said Hannaford made a conscious effort to stock more Passover items, especially at its Forest Avenue store.

“We have gone out of our way because we feel there is a need in the community,” Greene said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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