Chaya Korf was leading one of her monthly Lunch & Learn classes, offering tips for Passover, when she mentioned a new app created as a guide for the eight-day holiday.
"All of a sudden, the Androids and iPhones were whipped out," she said. "The women downloaded it right there."
Passover Assistant, as the free app is titled, joins others that aim to offer at-your-fingers ease to alleviate the anxieties of preparing for and celebrating one of the best-known Jewish holidays. Links around a picture of matzo — the unleavened bread of the holiday — offer guidance for meal planning, recipes, shopping lists, Passover candle lighting times and more.
Passover, which begins at sundown Monday and commemorates the Israelites' escape from slavery in Egypt, involves extensive preparation. There's the thorough cleaning, shopping for required foods that are kosher for Passover and preparation of the traditional seder meal with its symbolic foods and retelling of the Passover story from the Haggadah, or service text.
Though a veteran of the festival and all that it entails, Korf, a busy mother of eight children ranging in age from 1 to 12, appreciates the new digital tool.
"Some of the popular songs from the seder are on there,'' she said. "It's a help in preparing the kids. Even though they've done it from year to year, it's a good refresher."
Besides, said Korf, whose husband is Rabbi Alter Korf of the Chabad Jewish Center of Greater St. Petersburg, the app provides a good checklist in the hustle and bustle leading up to the holiday.
And, "You can take it with you," she said.
Created by Chabad.org, the free software is available from Apple's App Store and Google's Play Store for iOS and Android devices. Within a week of its release, there were 20,000 downloads, Rabbi Korf said.
"It is really an incredible tool. We released the app because there is so much that goes into Passover," he said. "The most beautiful thing, including the practicality of it, is it relates to the younger generation. It's a great way for connecting them to Passover. What better way to get the youth engaged in the steps of preparing for Passover than to have it on an app?"
The rabbi gave a demonstration recently to a group of teenagers at the Chabad Jewish Center, 4010 Park St. N. Ari Zimmer, a 16-year-old Shorecrest Preparatory School student, likes the digital aid.
"It is basically an all-around tool for Passover. A lot of people really struggle in this society, since we are not all in a little shtetl (village) in Europe anymore," said Zimmer, whose family will head to Boynton Beach to celebrate the holiday with his 88-year-old grandmother, a retired pediatrician.
Zimmer also thinks that the app will help "make order of the whole holiday" and be useful to his mother by offering her additional recipes. It will also benefit him and his father, he said, since they provide "the backbone and the structure to the seder."
The Passover Assistant app also provides the correct time to begin the ritual search for chametz — the leavened grains forbidden during Passover. The night before the holiday begins, the rabbi said, a ritual search is made for the chametz, using a candle, feather and spoon. The purposely placed chametz is collected in the spoon and burned the following morning.
To 17-year-old Victoria Bischoff, who is in Rabbi Korf's teen group and is a mentor to younger children in the Chabad center's Hebrew school, the new software is "really cool."
"It's something people can use internationally and all you need is a smartphone, and everybody has it," she said.
The Lakewood High School student said she will share the app with her mother.
Jackie Kanner, who found out about the app in Chaya Korf's Lunch & Learn class, is similarly enthusiastic.
"It actually sings the prayers. So we can sing along with it in the right tune, because we are all tone-deaf," she said with a laugh.
Kanner, who describes herself as more into the tradition of celebrating Passover than observing it "to the letter of the law," said preparation can be daunting.
"I made the chicken soup a week ahead and froze it," she said, adding that she looked at the recipes on the Passover Assistant app and found them quite simple.
"I would definitely use one or two. I also thought, what was nice was the story of the seder plate," said Kanner, who has three adult sons and a year-old grandson.
She likes that the app explains the meaning behind the symbolic items that are placed on the seder plate, like the bitter herbs, the charoset — a mixture of apples and nuts —- and an egg.
"If you are a new married couple, this app would be so helpful, because there are lots of books on Passover and sometimes, it's very intimidating,'' she said. "This is quite easy to use.
"I am going to tell my husband, so he could check out some of the prayers."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.