Community, Holidays

The History of Passover

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Passover, Pesach in Hebrew, is one of the most important holidays in Judaism. Observed annually by Jewish people around the world, Passover is the first of the spring holidays and occurs during Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew lunar calendar.

Passover: A Celebration of Freedom and Renewal

The week-long holiday begins with a Seder, which means order. There are important rules and customs to observe before, during, and after the holiday meal.

At Seder, everyone gathers around the table and the Passover story is recited.
Participants read the Haggadah, the oldest liturgical text documenting the Israelites exodus from Egypt. Some families choose to make their own haggadot; others read from the original text. The story begins with the Israelites, who were made slaves by a cruel Pharaoh for more than 200 years in Egypt.

After much suffering, the Israelites enter into a sacred covenant with God: God promises to protect the Israelites in exchange for their devotion. God responds to Pharaoh’s mistreatment of the Israelites by casting “Ten Plagues” upon the land.

The Ten Plagues is a series of catastrophic events that include turning water into blood, sending swarms of locusts, and condemning to death all first-born sons. God instructs the Israelites to mark their homes with the blood of a lamb so the “angel of death” will “pass over” them and spare their first-born sons.

Pharaoh is finally convinced of God’s divine power and agrees to set the Israelites free. God appoints Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. At the Seder, celebratory songs accompany the story of the Exodus while adding to the holiday spirit.

Passover: The “Festival of Matzot”

Passover is also a time when Jewish people appreciate their history and celebrate their freedom. Every Seder starts with the words: “All who are hungry, let them come and eat.”

Foods eaten at the Passover meal are reminiscent of the suffering the Israelites endured. Matzot, known as the bread of affliction, is the most symbolic of these foods. Because the Israelites had to flee quickly from Egypt, they did not have time to bake their bread. This unleavened bread became what we now know as matzo.

Along with matzo, symbolic foods at the Seder table include: a roasted shank bone for the sacrificial lamb, a roasted egg, haroset: a mixture of fruit and nuts reminiscent of the bricks made by enslaved Israelites, green vegetables for springtime, bitter herbs to signify the harsh treatment of the Israelites, and salt water symbolic of their tears.

At the Seder, a favorite tradition involves hiding a special piece of matzo known as the Afikomen. After the meal, all young children search for the Afikomen. Those who find it receive a prize.

At the end of the Seder, a final cup of wine is offered and a door is opened for Elijah the Prophet. The hope is that Elijah, a miracle worker, will bring peace for the year ahead.

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