By Amanda Cuda


If you want to get kids interested in their religious heritage, you have to start simply, said Rabbi Shlame Landa, director of the Jewish education organization Chabad of Fairfield.

Since the Fairfield chapter of Chabad started two years ago, Landa's been holding workshops for children geared to all the major Jewish holidays. For instance, for Hanukkah, he gave lessons in how to press olive oil, and, for Rosh Hashana, he led them in making a traditional horn, called a shofar.

And, for the eight-day festival of Passover, which starts Wednesday, he taught them to make matzo, a flat unleavened bread that plays a major role in the holiday. Landa held the matzo-making workshop at the Jewish Center for Community of Eastern Fairfield County on Park Avenue in Bridgeport on Sunday afternoon. "We're trying to bring the holiday alive to children," Landa said, "to let them get their hands a little dirty and experience the holiday."

Passover celebrates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. After witnessing the suffering of the Israelites, God sent Moses to the Pharaoh, asking him to release the slaves. When Pharaoh failed to comply, God sent 10 plagues upon Egypt, destroying everything from livestock to crops.
In the last of the plagues, God killed all the firstborn children of the Egyptians. The name "Passover" comes from the fact that, during this plague, God spared the children of Israel, "passing over" their homes.

Pharaoh then,finally, heeded God's word, and chased the slaves out of Egypt. The Israelites were forced to leave so quickly that the bread they baked for provisions for their journey didn't have time to rise. Hence, the tradition of eating unleavened bread ­-- and banishing all leavened grain products from the home — during Passover.

At Sunday's JCC event, Landa said, children were given only 18 minutes to pull their matzo creations together. Their products, though, weren't kosher for Passover and can't be consumed during the holiday. But that wasn't the point, Landa said. The point was for the kids to enjoy themselves while learning about their faith. The matzo baking, Landa said, "was only a practice run."

Eli Kornreich, president of the JCC and the United Jewish Appeal Federation, said the matzo baking is a typical one for the center, which looks to celebrate religion in ways that are accessible to all members of the community. "What we try to do is provide a number of entry points for families to experience and engage in Jewish holidays and Jewish themes in a way that's fun," he said.

Landa and Kornreich both said that Passover is the most family-oriented of the Jewish holidays. Unlike most holidays, Passover is celebrated primarily in the home, not in a synagogue. The centerpiece of the holiday is the seder, a special meal served on the first two nights of Passover. The seder is a 15-step, ritual-focused family feast. Focal points of the meal include eating matzo and recitations from the Haggada, which describes the story of the exodus from Egypt.

The seder, Kornreich said, is aimed to get people, particularly children, interested in the story of Passover. "It's a meal that has teaching rolled into it," he said.

Landa said, at its heart, the seder provides an opportunity for families to take a break from their hectic lives, and spend some time just enjoying each other. "We get so busy with everything going on in our lives," he said. "It's important to have a time just to get together as a family."

Kornreich agreed that Passover is a special time to those of the Jewish faith. "It's one of the few times that Jews who are not necessarily religious will seek each other out to get together," he said.

For more information on Chabad of Fairfield and the JCC and the services they provide, visit (for the JCC) or (for Chabad).