Your parrot can observe Pesach, too

TEANECK, N.J. — Linda Karasick's parrot Bob spends Pesach at the Cedar Lane Pet Shop, where he will eat kitniyot — food like seeds and certain grains — that are permitted to Sephardim on Pesach.

Bob is not alone. Many of his friends will be there, according to Karasick.

It's a puzzlement: What do you feed a pet bird on Pesach? Or for that matter a cat? A dog? These and other quirky questions that might mystify mainstream rabbis can be called in to the free Operation Pesach Passover Information Hotline at (888) MATZAH1 or (888) 628-9241, sponsored by the Union for Traditional Judaism here.

"We've been doing this since 1985," said Rabbi Ronald Price, UTJ executive vice president. "We discovered that it was one of the best ways to bring people into contact with Judaism. This is a good first step" for people who are not connected to Judaism and "also helpful for observant Jews with technical questions."

Price, who noted that calls come in from all over the United States and from the Carribean, said he "loves the project."

He got a poignant call one year from a 29-year-old woman in Texas who had been raised as a Catholic.

"Her mother had just told this young woman that she was Jewish. She wanted to connect to the Jewish people. We put her in touch with a congregation in her area."

This year the hotline will operate until April 15. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the phone will be answered by volunteers, including rabbis and lay leaders. The after-hours calls go into a voice-mail box and are answered usually within 12 hours or less. Rabbi Jeffrey Rappoport, editor of the Kosher Nexus, a UTJ-published national kashrut newsletter, is one of the hotline volunteers.

Each year Kosher Nexus publishes a list of some of the questions that were called in. The edition with last Pesach's queries has just been published. Selected questions: "How do I kasher my dentures?" (Just clean them well.) "What can I feed my guinea pig?" (Sunflower seeds, oranges, apple, carrot, alfalfa, lettuce, cabbage, and pears.) "Is quinoa kosher for Passover?" (Yes.)

Bob enjoys his Passover vacation, Karasick said. "He has many visitors. People come by to hear him say 'good Shabbos.'"

Next year he may learn to wish his visitors a "good Pesach.''