Festival heralding sweet year for Jews

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Some 35 young children sat on the grass Sunday in Schenley Park, paying rapt attention to the speaker's explanation of the shofar, a ram's horn that is blown on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

"Who here is a good person?" asked Rabbi Yisroel Altein, from Yeshiva Schools/Chabad.

Small hands shot up in the air.

"Who's a good person who sometimes makes mistakes?"

Hands went up again, with less enthusiasm. Then the rabbi raised his own hand.

"We all make mistakes," he said. "The sound of the shofar reminds us to come back home, to be the good person we really are."

Then he and co-presenter Nachy Eisenberg -- who, with his sunglasses, bushy dark beard and knitted skull cap could have been a sax player in a blues band -- each picked up a horn.

They put the drilled tips to their lips and blew, emitting the plaintive wails that have echoed through the ages and will again next week on Rosh Hashana, when the shofar traditionally is blown.

The holiday begins at sundown on Sunday, marking the start of the year 5773 on the Hebrew calendar.

The shofar demonstration was part of Apples and Honey, a fall festival celebrating the new year and named after the traditional Jewish treats that symbolize hope for a sweet year.

Sponsored by Shalom Pittsburgh, the outreach arm of the Young Adult Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the festival drew about 300 registrants -- 100 more than in 2011, its inaugural year.

Rachael Altoff, director of the Young Adult Division, said Apples and Honey is its biggest event of the year.

Added organizer Amy Cohen: "The festival is a way to engage people in the community and get them ready for the holidays. I just hope the rain holds off."

It did. Sun broke through the clouds as families munched apples (donated by Giant Eagle) and honey sticks while milling among the tables.

At one, a glass-enclosed honeycomb swarming with bees displayed the origins of the thick, sweet substance, courtesy of Hannah's Honey of Fox Chapel, which also offered tastes of its fall honey (dark and sweet) and spring honey (light-colored and lighter tasting).

Children made small beeswax candles at a table run by Ward Troetschel of Edinboro Creations in West Mifflin, which sells full-size beeswax candles online.

His wife, Nin, showed Sasha Forrest, 6, and her brother Ezra, 3, how to warm a wax rectangle between their hands to soften it, lay the string wick along the edge, roll and squeeze the edge to hold the wick and then keep rolling until the finished candle emerged.

"Look what I made!" Ezra said to his parents, Jamie Forrest and Rachel Kranson of Squirrel Hill. "It smells like bees," he added.

Other craft tables were run by Hillel Academy, Community Day school, The Jewish Community Center, Yeshiva Schools and PJ Library, which sends a free Jewish-themed book each month to Jewish families with young children.


Sally Kalson: skalson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1610.


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