Noa Rosen kneels on the wooden floor, holding a small candle while her father, Gil, uses a feather to sweep tiny crumbs onto a wooden spoon and deposits them in a paper cup.
“Now we move on to the dining room,” she says, and her father leads the way.
Rosen and 11-year-old Noa are in search of chametz, the leavened bread that is forbidden during the Jewish holiday of Pesach, or Passover, which begins this year at sundown on April 6.
Tradition calls for Jews to go to great lengths to rid their homes of any leavened grains – on their hands and knees by candlelight, if necessary, according to the Talmud. And many families take that to heart, often involving their children in an elaborate search for the crumbs as a way to teach them about their history and faith.
“It’s a learning experience,” said Gil Rosen, whose family will burn the crumbs they discover in a ceremonial fire outside their Bayside, Minn., home before preparing for the first night’s Seder meal.
“The whole idea is that they learn our ways – the way we’ve been doing it for 4,000 years – so they can be transferred down through the generations.”
Passover commemorates the Jews’ exodus out of slavery in Egypt. The Seder meal, at which Jews recount that journey, features a variety of ritual foods: saltwater to represent their tears; bitter herbs eaten with charoset, a mixture of fruits and sweet wine – a reminder that even in their pain they find joy. And, of course, matzo, the unleavened bread symbolic of their flight.
“You have to make sure there are no traces, even the smallest minuscule crumbs of any grain product. So you literally have to go into every corner,” Rosen said.
They set aside anything made of chametz – bread, pasta, cereals – and lock it in a cabinet with a note indicating it no longer belongs to them.
Like many families, the Rosens work through a rabbi to sell their leavened food to a non-Jew for the duration of the holiday and buy it back once it’s over.
The search began with a prayer blessing and thanks to God for the opportunity to carry out his commandment to burn the chametz.
Then Noa and her father begin their quest, starting in the kitchen and moving through the first floor.
According to tradition, they must search even those places where a mouse might have stashed a crumb.
“There’s a lot here,” Noa tells him in the dining room.
“That’s not a good thing to be saying, Noa, since you were the one who was supposed to clean in here,” he chides her.
To make things interesting, Gil and his wife, Ilene, have hidden a few pieces of bread for their two daughters to find – in little bags, lest they lose their crumbs along the way.
“The main part is to get the kids engaged in the holiday,” said Ilene, whose family will host about 30 people in their home for the Seder. “One of the great things about Judaism is it’s full of traditions, and now we’re creating our own traditions for our children.”