The speciality aisle at Giant Eagle was abuzz with people of the Jewish faith shopping for matzo and other kosher items Sunday afternoon in preparation for Passover.
The event, known as Passover in the Aisles, was organized by Hazzan Michael Horwitz, spiritual leader of Agudath Achim synagogue. Horwitz said the activity is held in major cities, and he wanted to bring it to Altoona. He said the event offers a chance to learn new ideas and prepare for the holiday, which begins at sundown March 29.
"It's never too early to get ready for Passover," Horwitz said.
Bob Neidorff of Altoona grabs a box of matzo during the Passover in the Aisles event Sunday at Giant Eagle in Logan Town Centre.
The shopping experience provided an opportunity to share about the upcoming eight-day holiday with neighbors and friends.
"It's a nice social event," said Jordan Bailinger of Duncansville. "It's a lot more fun than [shopping] by yourself. It brings out the spirit of the holiday."
The event included a table where children created sand art. Other tables were lined with guides and information about Passover and Haggadah books which retell the story of how the Jewish people were freed from Egyptian slavery about 3,000 years ago.
In the Bible, the story of Passover is told in Exodus 11 and 12. The Bible says that God inflicted 10 plagues upon the Egyptians but Pharaoh refused to free the Jews' ancestors. He let them go only after the last plague - or the deaths of the firstborn sons in the land. The Jews' ancestors were instructed to place the blood of a lamb on the door frames of their homes, and God's spirit passed over these homes.
Questions by Jews and nonJews about the holiday were answered by Rabbi Yossi Stein of Pittsburgh. He was accompanied by his wife, Chana'le, and their children.
Stein is an Orthodox rabbi serving with Chabad Lubavitch of Western Pennsylvania.
He said the movement "reaches out to its [Jewish] brothers and sisters to help them connect with their heritage in a sweet way."
Stein said Passover in the Aisles spreads an awareness of Passover and helps people celebrate Judaism openly and with pride.
"We are in Giant Eagle, not in a congregation," he said.
Stein said Passover is a holiday for everyone and is family-oriented.
Bailinger said it allows people to reconnect with their past. People have emotional ties to Passover, and even not overly observant Jews participate, he said. They reach back and try to connect with their youth when cousins, aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents shared the observance.
"Passover is the biggest holiday," said Ania Aguero of Tyrone. "It celebrates freedom from slavery and the beginning of our nation."
Families observe the first and second nights of Passover with a Seder. It includes foods symbolic of slavery and freedom and is followed by a festive meal.
Aguero said Passover in the Aisles was exciting.
"It's an opportunity to share our culture and our holiday," she said.
Carol Lipitz of Hollidaysburg said the event was nice, and she and others support the local grocers, including Weis and Martin's, which provide kosher foods for the holiday. She still travels to a kosher butcher shop in Pittsburgh for her meats and other products such as margarine, cheese, jellies, jams and baked goods.
Baked goods are a speciality item because they must be made without leaven.
All leaven products, such as bread, crackers, cakes and cookies, must be removed from a Jewish home before Passover, which also is known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
It is called that because the Jews' ancestors left Egypt in such a hurry there was no time to let the bread rise. Instead of the usual bread products, matzo is eaten. Most families serve matzo ball soup, but matzo pancakes, pizza and other food can be enjoyed.
Lipitz said her two daughters love her matzo ball soup, which she described as heavier than other variations.
The family is looking forward to the holiday.
Lipitz said a Christian family is coming for the first night of Passover and four friends of one of her daughters are coming for the second night.
Betsy Kline of Altoona said she thought Passover in the Aisles was a great idea.
"You have to buy the food anyway. This just adds to the celebration."