Bay Area Passover celebrations begin

Passover celebrations began in the Bay Area Wednesday, with many people marking the first night of the Jewish holiday with the traditional seder evening meal, gathering again in large groups after years of pandemic isolation.

At Saul's Restaurant and Deli in Berkeley, a steady stream of customers came in to get carry-out orders, with bags of brisket and traditional kosher foods lined up.

"People are gathering. We have a lot of to-go, like Saul's At Home, people getting takeout for their seders at home," said Sam Tobis, one of the new co-owners at Saul's.

"We had four days, coming in like five in the morning, working and preparing all the ingredients," said Jesus Mendoza, another Saul's co-owner.

Each item on the table has a special meaning for the holiday, which celebrates the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom.

Rabbi Chai Levy at Congregation Netivot Shalom says they decided to host a seder meal for the first time since the pandemic began, celebrating the new freedom from pandemic isolation.

"It's not just about an historical experience of leaving a place called Egypt. In the Torah, Egypt is Mitzrayim, and that word means a narrow place. So it's kind of an archetype of coming from a narrow constricted place crossing the sea and coming into a more expansive place," said Rabbi Levy.

But for some, this Passover is also painful. Julia Berezovska is a Jewish Ukrainian MBA student at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. She is thinking of her mother and homeland on this holiday that is meant to be celebrated at home.

"They had the seder table today despite bombs," said Berezovska.

She worries about her mother and cousin who are caught in Ukraine amidst the Russian attacks.

"We feel a deep sense of connection with our relatives, with our family members in Ukraine," said Berezovska.

"We set about to bring into Ukraine everything that the Jews would need for the entire eight days of the holidays," said Judi Garrett, COO of the Jewish Relief Network Ukraine or JRNU.

Garrett says the non-profit group has spent the past few months shipping supplies to some 50,000 Ukrainian Jews, so they can celebrate Passover this week. That meant mobilizing thousands of volunteers to distribute the supplies. The group purchased nearly 200,000 pounds of meat, 129,000 pounds of matzoh, 41,800 bottles of grape juice, and other kosher foods.

"It was very important that at least for tonight, the Jews of Ukraine at least feel that they were liberated and free and they were going to be celebrating a rebirth and renewal," said Garrett.

The group hopes they can help turn the holiday into a week of hope for the many families and children in Ukraine.