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Parents teach children Passover traditions

| Tuesday, April 3, 2012

There are times when Amiel and Anita Belfer's sibling rivalry gets pretty colorful.

Sunday was just such a day.

At a Squirrel Hill ceramics studio, Amiel's little hands didn't flinch as he swirled a big, goopy dab of dark-green paint onto a blank, white plate. He was careful not to cover the pencil-drawn scrawl of a menorah on the edge.

"Check this out," the 7-year-old said, almost braggingly, to Anita, 10. "Mine's gonna be cool."

Anita didn't answer right away; she was too busy to look up, furiously mixing earth tones and bright blues.

Moments later: a declaration.

"The egg is going to go here," Anita said, pointing to the oval-shape white space on her artwork.

But there's more than sibling bragging rights on the line here. There are thousands of years of heritage.

Passover is marked by millions of Jews worldwide, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. Handcrafted Seder plates, which often provide the cultural road map for traditional Passover during the season, are key.

Each of the six items arranged on a Seder plate -- egg, lettuce, parsley, bitter herbs, shank bone and haroseth -- aims to retell the story of the Exodus. A seventh symbolic item -- a stack of three matzot -- also is used during the meal, but is placed on its own plate at the Seder table.

It's not uncommon for children as young as 3 to paint their own Seder plates and for the decorative tableware to remain in a family for several generations.

Amiel and Anita's mother, Inna Belfer, is Jewish but was not a devout observer of Judaism while growing up in Russia. That changed when she and her husband moved to Israel in 1990.

While there, they developed an affinity for the Jewish culture and history, and wanted to pass it to their children.

"This is just a fun way to teach them tradition," says Inna Belfer of Squirrel Hill.

Passover this year begins at sundown on Friday and continues until April 14. Jewish culture has strong roots in Western Pennsylvania, particularly in Squirrel Hill, which accounts for nearly half of Pittsburgh's entire Jewish population.

Experts believe the size of Pittsburgh's Jewish community hasn't changed much since the release of the United Jewish Federation's 2002 Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study. The report found there were 54,000 Jews living in the Greater Pittsburgh area, up from 47,700 roughly two decades earlier.

The report also determined that 48 percent of Pittsburgh's Jews were younger than 40, and that 40 percent of young Jewish adults -- those ages 22 to 39 -- had moved to the city since the 1990s.

Anna Kamelin, a Russian who married a Jew, hopes Seder rites catch on with her daughter Katya Beniash, 11. Kamelin and her husband lived in Israel for eight years before moving to the United States in 2000.

"Our children need to be shown all sides of their culture," says Kamelin of Mt. Lebanon. "When you know your roots, you become a more complete person. And that's what any parent wants for their children."

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