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Jewish Community Burns Leavened Products Before The Start Of Passover

BALTIMORE (WJZ)—This is an important night for Baltimore's Jewish community and Jews around the world. It's the beginning of the weeklong celebration of Passover.

Ron Matz has more on one tradition that brings out thousands of people in the city.

It's a Jewish tradition, the burning of the Chometz -- bread and leavened products -- before the start of Passover.

"The community comes out to burn their Chometz before the onset of the Passover holiday," said Joann Levy, Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. "It's a wonderful way to sort of kick off the holiday. The community comes together. There's camaraderie and fellowship and we have a beautiful day for it."

Dr. Bert Miller began it in Baltimore in 1982.

"This is arguably one of the oldest religious observances currently practiced in the world. Jews have been burning bread the day before Passover in tens of thousands of communities for over 3,000 years," said Miller, of Northwest Baltimore.

Four years ago this ritual was moved to Pimlico Race Course to accommodate the big crowds.

"This was moved from the Glen Avenue firehouse several years ago. We decided to move it to Pimlico Race Course. I approached the Maryland Jockey Club and they were more than willing to have it here. It's a safe location and it's large enough," said Betsy Gardner, City Council Jewish liaison.

Passover celebrates the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt.

"It's a time of freedom that a person can free himself from any bad character trait, and a person can improve himself," said Emanuel Goldfeiz, of Pikesville.

"Tradition is essential; it's part of our covenant with God," Miller said. "We have a covenant with God to keep his commandments. One of his commandments is to observe the Passover holiday. This involves the destroying of any bread or any leaven in our possession. That's what we are doing here today."

Food is also being donated and will be delivered to three area churches.

"We distribute it to a bunch of different churches in the area, to folks who need food or clothing," said Kris Burnell, CHAI.

City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts was there for Monday's observance.

"I met with a number of rabbis last week on Thursday. We're coming out here with our recruit class so they can understand the cultures, the norms, the traditions," Batts said.

An estimated 3,000 people turn out for the burning each year.

"People are bringing all kinds of leavened products they have in their homes," Miller said.

Passover begins Monday night with the traditional seder meal. The holiday lasts for eight days.

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