The start of Passover was held in the most unconventional place Friday night — an Italian restaurant in Mineola.
Piccola Bussola owner Tony Lubrano, who has had the eatery for 15 years, said it started nine years ago when a Jewish customer asked to host the Passover Seder for 40 family members in a private room behind the bar.
Lubrano, a Catholic, agreed, but there was one problem: His restaurant wasn’t prepared to serve the traditional Passover meal of gefilte fish, matzo ball soup and brisket.
“I practiced on my own to figure out how to make this,” he said. “I practiced for three weeks.”
From there, the word spread and the number of people wanting to attend mushroomed. Roughly 190 people came out Friday.
“But I turned away about 200,” the owner said. “Every year, we turn more and more people away because we just don’t have the space for it.”
Friday at sunset marked the start of Passover, an eight-day commemoration of the Hebrews’ exodus out of slavery in ancient Egypt.
This year, the holiday coincides with Good Friday, the day that Christians observe the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
North New Hyde Park resident Steven Weingarten, 71, brought in the dinner at the restaurant with several family members.
“We’re here to celebrate the Jewish people leaving the land of Egypt and not being slaves and ending up in Israel, that became the Jewish homeland,” he said.
His sister, Tina Begleiter, 77, flew in from Poinciana, Florida to share the experience.
“It’s about how we got here. Our ancestors left the desert. We are free people.”
During the dinner, a cordless microphone was walked around with people reading different sections of The Passover Haggadah, which tells the story of how the enslaved Jews left Egypt.
Each person in the room sat with a Seder plate covered with food related to the Passover.
Zroa is a roasted bone symbolizing the lamb roasted and eaten on the Seder night in the temple days, while beitza is a roasted egg representing eternal life and the renewal of life in springtime .
Maror is a bitter root symbolizing the bitterness of slavery, and charoset is a mixture of chopped nuts, apples and wine. It shows the mortar, which the Jewish people used when they were slaves.
Karpas, a parsley or any green vegetable, stands for hope, and chazeret is ground horseradish or bitter lettuce eaten on matzo later in the Seder .
For Planview resident Ilene Reif, the evening was more about being around loved ones.
“I’m very sentimental and family oriented, she said. “This is the family that I love.”
Weingarten said sharing experiences with his family is why they decided to come.
“We always have first and second night Passover with each other,” he said. “We wanted to come last year, but it didn’t work out.”
Staten Island resident Rosalie Gold said she has come all nine years.
"As the years go on, the celebration becomes more about family tradition than the religious celebration," she said.