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BBYO Connect's Chocolate Seder

Read this story in The Boston Globe

It was a Passover seder with all the trappings: Plates of symbolic foods, the story of Israelites escaping from slavery in Egypt, and traditional Jewish songs.

But in lieu of bitter herbs and dense matzo balls, about 25 middle school students from Massachusetts and Rhode Island instead feasted on chocolate in Newton Sunday.

Rather than dipping parsley into salt water to symbolize the enslaved Israelites’ pain and sadness, they dipped strawberries into chocolate sauce.

Dark chocolate stood in for bitter herbs on the Passover plate. The shank bone, a reminder of the lamb traditionally sacrificed for Passover hundreds of years ago, was replaced by Kit Kat bars.

The chocolate seder was hosted by BBYO Connect, a program for Jewish middle school students.

“There’s definitely a place for more formal education for middle schoolers,” said Noah Zaves, coordinator for the program, B’nai B’rith Youth Organization Connect. “But it’s also important to get them excited about different traditions, and to show them that not only are these traditions important, but they can be really fun.”

Sophie Harlam, 15, of Providence, who planned and helped lead the seder, volunteered for the opening ritual that replaced traditional hand-washing: pouring chocolate syrup over her hands.

“When we [BBYO] have services, it’s really cool, because we do it in really creative ways,” she said after the seder, palms still slightly sticky. “Even, like, the boring stuff — we make it fun.”

For some, this was not the first nontraditional Passover lesson of the season.

During a Hebrew school session before the chocolate seder Sunday morning, Madi Roach and Tessa Haining, both 12 of Newton, painted their fingernails to represent the 10 plagues God inflicted upon the Egyptian people before the Jews fled: red for the rivers of blood, glitter-flecked green for the downpour of frogs, and blue for the killing of first-born Egyptian sons.

“It’s, like, fun, and usually fun things help you learn,” Roach said.

The lesson seemed to stick. When asked to use the food at the seder to make Passover-themed artwork on a paper plate, Roach, Haining, and 11-year-old Ari Stein of Warwick, R.I., put Chex cereal on chocolate sauce to symbolize the plagues of boils and hail.

But supplying middle schoolers with chocolate, even for educational purposes, is not without hazards.

Zachary Terceiro, 14, of Cranston, R.I., spent the morning with his friends at their local temple, preparing chocolate chip cookies for charity. He sampled a cookie from each batch, he said,to make sure they were not too hot to pack.

Then he and his friends came to the chocolate seder. Halfway through the event, they were giddily yelling over one another, sharing tales of high jinks at bar mitzvahs. Terceiro was tapping his foot uncontrollably.

“I feel like if my mom knew how much chocolate I had today,” he said, “she wouldn’t let me eat chocolate again.”

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