In the weeks before Passover, the thoughts of many Jewish families turn to the guests they’ll invite to the seders and the holiday dishes they’ll shlep out of storage.
Some New York Jews will think about appliance cords and electrical outlets.
As part of its mandate to educate the Jewish community about fire safety, The Ahava Project will distribute Passover-related safety warnings at several local Jewish day schools prior to the first seder on April 16.
While Passover and other Jewish holidays are annual times of reunion and renewal, they are also a prime time for danger, with bulging outlets, rows of candles and crowded apartments, says Elliot Schwartz, founder of the independent, not-for-profit organization that recently marked its first anniversary.
Ahava is Hebrew for love. The organization was founded, Schwartz says, in the memory of his mother, Rose, "out of the love she had for children." Schwartz’s mother died two years ago.
Children are the focus of The Ahava Project, whose activities are conducted at synagogues and Jewish schools in the greater New York area.
Its lectures, CPR classes and training sessions for youth group leaders and newsletters and a car-seat loaner program advise parents, teachers and others responsible for the care of youngsters how to prevent fire-related emergencies and react in an emergency.
Everything is free, Schwartz notes.
"Jewish observance and burn prevention," a newsletter prepared by the organization, describes an accidental fire set in the home of a Jewish family searching for chometz on the night before Passover with the traditional candle and feather. One child, seriously burned, survives, but, brain damaged, "lives in a world beyond reality."
"In the United States, in 1992 alone," the newsletter states, "there were 1.2 million burn injuries, 35 percent of them children. Burns and fire are Ö the leading cause of death in the home for children and young adults."
"The statistics are inordinately high … among Orthodox Jews," according to the newsletter. "The New York Hospital Burn Center … reports that 30-40 percent of the children in the unit are from observant homes."
Among the advice offered in the newsletter:
# Don’t let appliance cords hang from a countertop or table.
# Turn pot handles toward the middle of the stove, out of a child’s reach.
# Keep candles and matches away from children.
# Use a flashlight, instead of a candle, when searching for chometz in "hard to reach places."
# Teach all family members what to do in case of a fire.
All are common sense precautions but they are not commonly followed, says Schwartz, president of the ArtScroll Printing Corp. and a veteran Hatzolah emergency ambulance corps volunteer.
"My years in Hatzolah showed me the things the Jewish community could do to create a safe environment for children," he said.
Schwartz, of Scarsdale, used his background in printing and ambulance work to design an information-packed spiral notebook for the participants in The Ahava Project’s training sessions. He is assisted on The Ahava Project by two other volunteers, Dahlia Fried, project coordinator, and Baila Spielman, seminar leader.
Their next programs: a Web site, an outreach to summer camps, and training sessions for Spanish-speaking and Russian-speaking housekeepers.
Schwartz says he’d be happy if none of the people who have attended The Ahava Project’s training sessions put into practice what they’ve learned.
"In 20 years," he says, "I’d rather have them never use any of the things we’ve taught them."
For information about The Ahava Project, call (212) 279-8129.