This Morning, Friday, April 6, 6:30 AM - 11:30 AM - Holy Smoke: 2012 Baltimore Chometz Burning (Photo Essay, Video and Pesach Zmanim Guide)
By BaltimoreJewishLife.com/Margie Pensak
Posted on 04/05/12 | Comments (4)
Baltimore, MD - March 19 - The annual Baltimore Chometz Burning has become a beloved tradition in the Baltimore community. It is, dare I say, a heartwarming experience to see members-- of every age, stage, gender, and religious orientation--of our community, gather together to burn their chometz on erev Pesach, followed by the recitation of Kol Chamira.
The Chometz Burning will take place for the fourth year at the Clubhouse Parking lot of the Pimlico Race Course, thanks to the generosity of the Maryland Jockey Club, on Friday, April 6, between 6:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. [In Baltimore, chometz may be eaten until 10:26 a.m. and burned until 11:40 a.m.]
Our community owes a debt of gratitude to Baltimore City’s Fifth District Councilwoman Rikki Spector, for her tireless efforts in making the Chometz Burning event happen this year, especially because it falls on a legal holiday.
Councilwoman Spector expressed: “I truly appreciate the partnership of observant community leadership, Baltimore City government, and Pimlico Race Course. Together, we will, again, be able to observe this important ritual in a religiously meaningful and safe manner that is respectful to all communities, thanks to the invaluable assistance of all involved. And, a special thanks goes to Betsy Gardner, the Mayor’s liaison to Northwest Baltimore and the Jewish community, for her work in bringing this all together.”
“We have provided operational support for the Chometz Burning in the past and will do so again this year,” corroborated Baltimore City, Department of Public Works, Bureau Head, Valentina Ukwuoma. “There will be Solid Waste personnel and equipment available April 6 at the Pimlico Race Course. Events such as these are recognized as traditions that strengthen the bonds of a community and we are pleased to be a part of it."
“The Maryland Jockey Club is proud to support this event for the third consecutive year,” said Pimlico Race Course president Tom Chuckas. “As a resident of the Park Heights community and the city of Baltimore, we are proud to assist our neighbors and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.”
Betsy Gardner, the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods’ Northwest Baltimore/Jewish Community Liaison, has made a request of our community members: “I would like to respectfully ask residents to start preparing now for Pesach so they are not rushing, and the Department of Public Works employees are not faced with a ton of trash to dispose of on the week of Pesach. Special acknowledgment needs to go to Councilwoman Rikki Spector for changing legislation so there is no limit to the amount trash disposed, as long as it is in a trash can with a tight fitting lid. As in previous years, I have arranged for roll offs at the Chometz Burning at Pimlico for last minute trash disposal.”
PLEASE NOTE: This year, the scheduled Wednesday, April 4th trash pickup will take it all. Because Friday, April 6 is a City Holiday, there will be no recycling pick-up that day. The recycling pick-up will be on Shabbos, April 7, the first day of Pesach; you can place your recycling on your curbside prior to Shabbos. Also new this year, in order to cover the substantial cost of this event, each family is respectfully asked to contribute a minimum of $3.00. (Organizations and individuals are asked not to solicit funds at the chometz burning site.)
The History of Baltimore’s Chometz Burning Event
The annual communal Chometz Burning is the brainstorm of Dr. Bert Miller. He organized the event, in 1982, when he realized that some families were disposing of their chometz with unsafe fires. He has been its chairman ever since. It started out at the Shearith Israel (aka Glen Avenue) synagogue, with about 200 participants, before moving its location to the Glen Avenue Fire Station. Last year, in its third year at Pimlico, Dr. Miller estimated that over 1500 vehicles, carrying 5,000-6,000 people, came to the event.
One participant’s memorable quote, I am sure, encapsulates the sentiments of our community, as a whole. He told Dr. Miller, “I can burn chometz in my backyard and fulfill the mitzvah 100%. But, what you did by having this event, is let my children see the whole community--thousands of people--coming out, all to do the avodas Hashem. That’s what my children get to see!”
“We will never know how many children were spared from receiving serious burns,” notes Dr. Miller. “The way we have it set up, we’ve never had a burn problem. What started me on this event, was something I observed when I was living in the Glen View Apartments (which is now called Fox Glen Apartments), back in the late 1960s. There was an elderly gentleman across the courtyard burning chometz on his porch. When another neighbor saw the smoke billowing from the burning chometz, she thought that the building was on fire and called the fire department. The Glen Avenue Fire Station was/is located about 150 yards away on the neighboring property. The responding firemen rushed to the startled man's porch and put out the fire burning in his barbecue grill. The elderly gentleman, who was just trying to perform, arguably, the oldest religious ceremony still being practiced, over 3000 years later, looked bewildered when the firemen put his fire out. It was then, that I realized there must be other elderly people burning it, and there had to be a better solution!”
Dr. Miller was then on the board of the Vaad Hakashrus (today, known as Star-K Certification), and he proposed a community-wide chometz burning to his fellow board members. Although they agreed it would be a worthwhile project, no one was sufficiently motivated to organize it.
“I realized that either I would organize the project myself or there would be no community chometz burning,” recalls Dr. Miller. “I ended up spearheading the project, myself, but did so under the umbrella of the Vaad. In early 1982, I phoned Chief O’Connor of the Baltimore City Fire Department. I explained that Jews have been burning bread for over 3000 years, all over the world.”
“Chief,” Dr. Miller said, “If we do nothing in an organized way about this ritual, there will be 800 fires in one neighborhood, in one morning.”
“Dr. Miller,” Chief O’Connor responded, “How can we help?”
Needless to say, Dr. Miller got the Chief’s complete cooperation.
Although Dr. Miller enlists the help of youngsters in the community, to help pull off this grandiose undertaking, there is one man in the community who has taken it upon himself to volunteer, for the past seven or eight years. Irvin Levin davens at the earliest of the minyanim on erev Pesach, and has raced over to help out with the Chometz Burning event for an hour or two, for the past 15 years. Even before Dr. Miller gets there, he helps direct traffic, set up cans, and collects money to keep the annual event going.
“I feel it is part of my community duty to help out this valuable work that Dr. Miller so graciously and so unselfishly performs for our community,” remarked Mr. Levin. “I want to do something to start off the Pesach season right and I want to help out the rest of our community.”
A Five Star-K Operation
The Chometz Burning event is sponsored by Star-K Kosher Certification, until this day. As a public service, the agency foots the few thousand dollar bill which covers costs such as: the rental of the dumpsters, the hiring of safety traffic enforcement officers, the Fire Department’s Open Flame Permit, 50 orange cones, 20 Bike Racks, 6 roll offs, Street Sweeper and Operator, 3 parking lot attendants/supervisor, the event’s assistants, and numerous other expenses.
“Once again, Star-K is very pleased to help coordinate this important service for our community,” said Star-K President Dr. Avrom Pollak.
A Word or Two from our Neighborhood Association Presidents
Cheswolde Neighborhood Association President Ron Rosenbluth, noted, “I really appreciate the City once again making such an effort to help our community with organizing the Chometz Burning, especially this year when the city is closed for a legal holiday. I also want to thank Betsy Gardner, the Mayor’s Jewish liaison for all the work she did to make this happen.”
The Cross Country Neighborhood Association President Avrahom Sauer further added, “The Chometz Burning program is beneficial for many reasons. From Hatzalah’s standpoint, as a safety issue, we stand a greater chance of minimizing injuries, especially during this hectic, chaotic time; there is a semblance of order with safety measure in place. It is a phenomenon that is spreading to other cities, as well. In Montreal they do it in an empty lot with the fire department watching over and taking care of it, ensuring safety.
“From a community standpoint, it is certainly cleaner and neater than having trash and burning debris all over, and it certainly smells cleaner, too,” continued Mr. Sauer. “This year, we have arranged that dumpsters (roll offs) are just not at the Agudah. There will be eight dumpsters spread throughout the neighborhoods, to help facilitate the greater needs after Pesach and/or spring cleaning. Please be sure not to overstuff the dumpsters, and to keep the area around the dumpsters clean, or they will not be provided for us in the future. Please be vigilant for people using the dumpsters for the wrong purpose or for commercial waste, such as building materials.”
Baltimore City Fire Chief James Clack told BaltimoreJewishLife.com, “I enjoy attending the chometz burning at Pimlico each year. We know that the children are learning about the importance of ridding their lives of chometz as part of their preparation for Passover. They are also very excited to see the fire truck parked nearby and many of them want to climb on the fire truck and talk to the firefighters. The fire department is there to participate with the Jewish Community in this important ritual and at the same time we want to keep everyone safe.”
Baltimore’s Best Chometz Burning Story
In my humble opinion, of all the stories told over the years about Baltimore’s annual chometz burning event, this one--told to me by Dr. Miller--gets the prize for the most comical one:
“In about 1983 or 1984, there were two ladies riding bikes who were riding past the chometz burning. They were obviously not a part of our community. One rider said to the other: ‘What’s going on here?’ They were looking at a gathering of about 95% men and 5% women, throwing stuff into a fire and reciting a chant. ’I don’t know,’ the other answered, ’but I’m throwing in my lunch!’”
Zmanim for Pesach, 5772 / 2012
Thursday, April 5: Bedikas Chometz After 8:26
Friday, April 6: Erev Yom Tov
Finish eating Chometz By 10:26 AM
Biyur (nullification) of Chometz Before 11:40 AM
Candle Lighting with Shehecheyanu 7:18 AM
Afikomen Finish before 1:09 AM (April 7th Shabbos morning)
Motzoei Shabbos April 7:
Candle Lighting with Shehecheyanu After 8:50 PM
Begin Sefiras HaOmer
Afikomen Finish before 1:09 AM (April 8th Sunday morning)
Thursday, April 12 Erev Yom Tov (Last days)
Candle Lighting 7:23 PM
Friday, April 13
Candle Lighting 7:24 PM
Shabbos, April 14 (Acharon Shel Pesach ) Yizkor