MANATEE — What do you get when you mix 50 curious St. Joseph’s Catholic School third-graders with six senior citizens from a Jewish residence in Sarasota who want to teach the students the meaning of the Jewish holiday of Passover?
The answer is the crunchy sound of unleavened matzo bread being eaten by one and all.
The senior citizens made the trek Monday from Kobernick House/Anchin Pavilion on North Honore Avenue in Sarasota to the school on 26th Street West as part of a “mitzvah” or good deed.
Their good deed was to bring some of the actual foods that Jews eat for the upcoming Passover holiday, including matzo, horseradish, apples and raisins and parsley dipped in saltwater and to explain their symbolism to the children.
The visitors also wanted to express that the Catholic and Jewish religions are not that far apart.
“We are really brothers and sisters,” said St. Joseph principal Robert Siccone. “One of the things we share with the Jews is finding the sacred in the ordinary. Water is important to both of us. Oil is important. Bread is important. And, as faiths, we both see value in ritual.”
Passover begins at sundown Wednesday and runs for eight days. Good Friday comes two days after Passover starts this year and Easter two days after that.
“I wish they had done this when I was in school because it would have increased tolerance,” said resident Helen Waldman.
The visitors were all members of the “Rabbi’s Mitzvah Club” started by Rabbi Barbara Aiello, who is now serving as a rabbi at Kobernick House/Anchin Pavilion.
The residents and their rabbi were invited to the school to do their mitzvah by third grade teachers Monica Munoz and Dale Rutkowsky.
As the visitors smiled, Emma Fenton of St. Joseph’s dipped a sprig of parsley into salt water and tasted it. She made a face.
“It’s bitter because it was a bitter time for the Jews being in Egypt,” Waldman said.
April Vita, a third grader, tasted matzo, the flat unleavened bread the Jews eat at Passover.
“I think it would taste better with some cheese with it,” she said.
Aiello explained that when the Pharaoh finally agreed to let the Jews flee Egypt, the bread being baked had not risen. With no time to delay, the bread was packed up flat and carried away.
“What, no cookies?” several members of the class shouted when Ruth Brown, Hubert Sidlow, Rifka Kalvaria, Rebecca Bornstein, and Frieda “Fritzy” Sharlin explained that Jews pass up rolls, cake, bread and, yes, cookies, for the eight days of Passover,
The residents also made cardboard Passover seder plates for each child which had pictures of what food items go where so the children could study them.
“Their faces are beautiful,” Waldman said of the students.
Passover celebrates the agonizing effort the Jews put forth thousands of years ago to break free from the Pharaoh’s bondage in Egypt.
Aiello told the children that Moses told Pharoah to “Let my people go,” but Pharoah resisted. God responded with plagues to get Pharoah to change his mind, the last one being death to the first-born children.
“But when God’s acted on this plague, he ‘passed over’ the Jewish homes,” Aiello said, explaining how the holiday got its name.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.