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March 25, 2013 at 10:39 PM
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Jews looking to liven up Passover Seders

POTOMAC, Md., March 25 (UPI) -- American Jewish people say they are looking for creative ways to rev up their Passover Seders to interest younger generations.

Passover, an eight-day holiday commemorating the Jews' liberation from slavery at the hands of the Egyptians thousands of years ago, begins Monday night a sundown

In preparation for the holiday, about 350 men attended a Seder-prep course at the Beth Sholom Congregation in Potomac, Md., on March 17, where they discussed ways to update their Seders to make them more engaging for younger people, The Washington Post reported. Seders traditionally consist of intense eating restrictions, ritual meals and the recital of scripture.

"My children are serious, intellectual people, and I see them drifting away," said Potomac physician Larry Goldkind, a father of four who attended the event. "A lot of religions don't seriously engage followers in the modern era who don't take Scripture at its word, and it ends up alienating people."

At the event, many attendees said they had thought of ways of innovating their Seders this year.

One person would have live frogs, one of the 10 plagues, in a cage on the dining room table and another said his downstairs was tented to make it feel like the Egyptian desert.

Rabbi Nissan Antine told the gathering the most important thing during Passover is to get Jews' attention so they ask questions.

"We all struggle with different things -- illnesses, issues with our livelihood -- but through the right kinds of questions, we can all feel that kind of freedom," he said.

Obama designates five new monuments

WASHINGTON, March 25 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama, using his authority under the Antiquities Act, designated five new national monuments across the United States Monday.

"These sites honor the pioneering heroes, spectacular landscapes and rich history that have shaped our extraordinary country," Obama said of the proclamations designating the monuments in Delaware, Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio and Washington state. "By designating these national monuments today, we will ensure they will continue to inspire and be enjoyed by generations of Americans to come."

The designations were made with bipartisan support from congressional, state and local officials, businesses and others, and are expected to help their local economies grow through tourism and outdoor recreation, the White House said.

The White House described the monuments as:

-- Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, Wilberforce, Ohio. The monument will preserve the home of U.S. Army Col. Charles Young, who was the third African-American to graduate from West Point and the first to achieve the rank of colonel.

-- First State National Monument in Delaware. The monument honors the early Dutch, Swedish, Finnish and English settlement of Delaware, as well as Delaware's role as the first state to ratify the Constitution. The park is comprised of three historic areas -- the Dover Green, the New Castle Court House complex and the Woodlawn property in the Brandywine Valley.

-- Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland. The monument commemorates the life of the most famous Underground Railroad conductor responsible for helping slaves escape to freedom. The national park, located on Maryland's Eastern Shore, includes land of significance to Tubman's early life and reminiscent of her life as a slave and conductor of the Underground Railroad.

-- Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico. Located northwest of Taos, the Rio Grande del Norte contains stretches of the Rio Grande Gorge and extinct volcanoes. It serves as habitat for many birds and wildlife and is home to petroglyphs, and archaeological and cultural resources dating from the Archaic Period to the more recent passage of Hispanic settlers.

-- San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington. Home to bald eagles, orca whales, harbor seals and other rare species, the San Juan Islands is a chain of 450 islands, rocks and pinnacles in Washington state's Puget Sound. A number of historic lighthouses are located on the islands, as well as fossils dating back 12,000 years.

Report: Sen. Johnson to bow out in 2014

WASHINGTON, March 25 (UPI) -- Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., will leave the U.S. Senate after finishing his third term in 2014, the Hill reported Monday.

Johnson is expected to announce his decision not to seek re-election Tuesday at the University of South Dakota, the Washington publication said. Johnson suffered a stroke in 2006.

His retirement would give Republicans a key opportunity to pick up a seat as they work to regain control of the Senate, The Hill said. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney carried South Dakota with 57 percent of the vote in the 2012 election.

Russians raid Amnesty International office

MOSCOW, March 25 (UPI) -- Russian authorities, in part of a months-long crackdown on international non-profits, raided the headquarters of Amnesty International Monday.

The head of the agency in Russia, Sergei Nikitin, told The New York Times by telephone from Moscow Kremlin officials arrived at the agency's office unexpectedly. They demanded a list of documents that were already on file with the government.

Nikitin said the Russian officials called the unscheduled visit an "audit" and demanded the documents, which Amnesty International workers were hurrying to turn over.

"They don't have any concrete complaints," he said. "They say it's a regular check and other cliche phrases."

State-controlled media arrived shortly after the Russian officials and harassed staff, Nikitin said.

The Russian government has been clamping down on international non-profits operating in the country, forcing some, depending on their funding sources, to register as "foreign agents." The Russian Parliament has passed strict new rules governing how international aid groups can operate in the country. The Kremlin recently stopped cooperating with the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, which closed its office there.

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