The hauntingly joyous strains of klezmer music from the Ortner-Roberts Duo filled the Shadyside Giant Eagle Market District yesterday afternoon, guiding Jewish shoppers to an area where they could get all of their Passover questions answered, pick up recipes and a free box of matzo.
Volunteers in "Got matzah?" T-shirts handed children bags containing kits to make a colorful matzo covers for the Passover Seder meal, and games such as a Hebrew word search.
Allison Grodin of Squirrel Hill brought her four young children because she wanted them to get excited about the upcoming holiday. Her eldest, Harrison, 8, held a paper plate with four small cups containing symbolic foods.
"It's a seder plate. I think this is neat," he said, pointing out the haroset -- a sweet mixture of nuts and fruit -- bitter herbs, greens and matzo.
Eighteen Jewish organizations partnered with Giant Eagle at the Market Districts in Shadyside and Bethel Park for the third annual Passover in the Aisles. The eight-day holiday begins at sundown April 8.
Jewish families will share a ritual meal that tells the story of the ancient Israelites' flight from slavery in Egypt. One of the most important rules is that, because the Israelites had no time to allow bread to rise, only unleavened bread -- matzo -- may be eaten during Passover. To ensure this, Jews traditionally rid their homes of anything containing yeast or other ingredients that rise when cooked. Beer, pasta and beans are all out.
Rabbi Sharyn Henry, associate rabbi at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland, fielded a question about whether soy sauce is kosher for Passover.
It's not, "because soy sauce has wheat in it," she said.
The Reform rabbi stood near an "Ask the Rabbi" sign, along with rabbis from other traditions. Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Wasserman of Shaare Torah Congregation, Squirrel Hill, said that people often stop him in the supermarket to ask questions about what's kosher, especially at Passover.
"People get very nervous, and rightly so, because everything is different," he said.
While correct observance is important, so is fun, he said. The Seder, which includes games such as hiding a piece of matzo, is intended to interest adults and children alike.
"At our seder there are very deep, intellectual discussions, but we also throw marshmallows to represent the plague of hail," he said, referring to one of 10 plagues that the Bible says God brought on the Egyptians.
Passover in the Aisles began three years ago as an outreach to Jews who weren't involved with Jewish communal life. But it has other benefits, said Jeff Finkelstein, president and CEO of the United Jewish Federation, which initiated the project.
"It shows pride in being Jewish that we do something like this publicly," he said.
"And it brings together a wide variety of Jewish organizations. Some of the participants have very different beliefs than others, but they have all come together for this as a community. This is a way of showing that we have more in common than not in common."
Rabbi Mordy Rudolph of Chabad-Shadyside belongs to a movement that is highly traditional, but he enjoys working alongside Reform rabbis.
"There are very few cities where the entire Jewish community can come together like this," he said.
As he spoke, chefs in the Market District kitchen demonstrated Passover recipes. Tammy Berkowitz, owner of Sweet Tammy's kosher bakery in Squirrel Hill, prepared coconut macaroons, a Passover favorite. Although her bakery also makes a flourless chocolate cake, it closes for the eight-day holiday because she has no way to remove every trace of flour, yeast and other forbidden foods.
Her macaroons are dipped in Passover chocolate, which contains no corn products because "corn grows when you cook it," she said.
Clarice Horne of Shadyside, has favorite Passover recipes that she has used for decades, including a matzo kugel -- a sweet casserole-like dish that is ordinarily made with noodles.
"But you can always try something new," she said as she picked up a free recipe booklet. "It's fun to cook for Passover."
Ann Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416.