March 27, 2002

JERUSALEM (AP)--Jewish families in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She'arim turned out in large numbers Wednesday to burn leftover bread ahead of the start of Passover which commemorates the exodus of the Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt.

The celebration of an age-old tradition was tempered by present-day security concerns--the holiday comes after 18 months of Mideast violence and amid fears that crowded synagogues could be targets for attack. On Wednesday evening, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded hotel lobby in the Israeli coastal resort of Netanya and medics said there were dozens of casualties.

Security measures have been stepped up across the country and the Israeli Religious Affairs Ministry has taken the unusual step of instructing synagogues to appoint four worshippers to bring weapons to services.

``We are scared. When we go out, my children are always looking around nervously. There is so much abundance of food but I don't feel calm,'' said Miriam Horowitz, who was visiting with her family and relatives from Brooklyn, New York.

Also, all police have been instructed to carry their weapons during the holiday, even when attending religious services or visiting holiday sites.

While the Jewish Bible states that Jews are only allowed to eat unleavened bread or matzoh during the weeklong holiday, a majority of Israelis feel the law banning the sale of bread during this period should not be enforced.

According to tradition, the ancient Jews did not have time to wait for the bread they were baking to rise when they fled from Egypt, and so bread is symbolically burnt or sold privately to non-Jews while shops cover leavened products or take them off the shelves completely.

However, while men threw loaves onto open flames as children looked on excitedly, a poll conducted this week showed that 55 percent of Jews felt there should be no enforcement of the law that stipulates that bread cannot be displayed for sale.

The poll, published in the Maariv daily, surveyed 505 adult Jews and found that of those against the law, 73 percent were secular Jews and 17 percent were religious. No margin of error was given.

But for ultra-Orthodox Ronny Cohen there can be no dispute about the law. ``The law comes from the Torah and we must do what the Torah says,'' he said.

Cohen, 21, was waiting for his pots to be dipped in one of the huge vats of boiling water set up in the area so observant Jews can ensure their crockery and silverware is made thoroughly kosher.

Not only are Jews not allowed to eat bread products but their houses should be made free of any leavened food products, and the week preceeding Passover is often accompanied by a frenzy of spring cleaning.

To ensure that they do not contaminate already cleaned surfaces, the Horowitz family was eating its last pre-holiday breakfast of bread rolls off a plastic cloth.

``This is a time to clean the house and the soul. The two go together,'' said Shalom Horowitz, husband of Miriam. ``We also are here to help give strength to the people of Israel.''

Regardless whether or not they eat bread during this period, for most secular and religious Jews, Passover is an opportunity to bring the family together. The Horowitz family, including relatives living in Israel and those visiting from the United States, number 150 and had to hire a hall to accommodate the clan for the traditional seder dinner.

``Passover is a time to help each other, to care and to love everyone,'' Shalom Horowitz said.

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