MANATEE — Parsley, apples, raisins and red wine gave Temple Beth El an aroma of renewal and freshness for the start of the Passover holiday, which began at sundown Wednesday and continues for eight days.
Similar celebrations were being held in Jewish homes and in synagogues all over Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Roughly 60 people strolled into the elaborately decorated gymnasium at Unity Church In The Woods where Temple Beth El, Manatee County’s Reform synagogue, has held its services for the last two years since selling its former building on 75th Street West.
On each table were seder plates, containing all the foods that symbolically tell the Passover story, which centers on the Jews’ struggle to be free from slavery in Egypt.
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The plates included boiled eggs representing new life, raisins, walnuts and apples representing the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build cities, the bitter herbs to commemorate the bitterness of life under bondage and the shank bone signifying the blood which was placed on the doors of Jews so the angel of death wouldn’t take Jewish children during the plagues on Egypt.
Temple Beth El Rabbi Larry Mahrer led the service and set the tone with a thoughtful message at the beginning.
“We live in a time of plenty, even with our economic troubles, and it is good to be reminded that it was not always this way and that it is not this way for many fellow humans,” Mahrer said.
Mahrer assured the crowd that the evening was going to be fun-filled, but he wanted them to take a moment to reflect.
“Will we continue to taste the tears and the bitterness with which so many live every single day?” Mahrer asked. “Will we care? Will we make the effort to improve our world?”
For Katherine “Kate” Richmond, it was her ninth Passover since discovering in 2000 that the faith of her mother’s ancestors was Jewish.
“We are actually celebrating freedom tonight,” Richmond said.
Betty Klein agreed.
“The story is important,” Klein said, referring to the “never-give-up” attitude the Jews had in regard to starting their own nation. “We remember the sadness. But we also have to learn to forgive.”
Alex Shames, 17, a student at Out Of Door Academy in Lakewood Ranch, attended with his father, Temple Beth El board member Jerry Shames.
“Young or old, Passover is relevant to all generations,” Alex said. “I have memories from all my Passovers.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.