Passover, the ancient saga of freedom for Jewish people

Passover, the ancient saga of freedom for Jewish people

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Passover, the holiday most observed by American Jews, also brings Jews worldwide to the Seder table. Jewish holidays begin at sundown, with Passover this year starting the evening of April 2 and concluding at sundown April 10.

This spring festival of freedom has echoed through the centuries and is as relevant today as it was when Moses led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt in millenia past.

The seder, a special dinner rich in symbolism, commemorates the Exodus. During the seder, a special prayer book known as the Haggadah (telling or “order”) is read, with a leader and guests participating in this unique service.

There are hundreds of versions of the Haggadah, each which tells the basic story of the exodus and often includes related readings, poems, prayers and stories.

During Passover, most Jews will forego eating any leavened foods, instead relying on matzoh, unleavened bread which recalls the haste of the Exodus from Egypt. There are many Passover cookbooks which help make cooking with no leavening products a delicious challenge.

A favorite of mine is “The American Heritage Haggadah” by Gefen Publishing House which includes writings by George Washington through a special prayer for those murdered in the Holocaust. There are also many Haggadahs for children along with games, puppets and more, which make telling the story more interesting for younger guests.

No matter how one tells the story, the ritual foods remain the same, and the goal is to bring the story of human freedom to all, including, from Scripture, “You shall tell your child on that day, it is because of what God did for me ...” (Exodus 13.8).

Houses are cleaned of all traces of leavening before Passover begins. The seder table is arrayed as beautifully as possible. A special plate, with sections for each ritual food, is used by the leader of the seder to explain the ancient story of the Exodus.

Bitter herbs, most often horseradish, represent the bitterness of slavery. Haroseth, a mixture of chopped apples, nuts and cinnamon (or a similar combination based on the Jewish cuisine of many different countries), moistened with a little wine and eaten with matzoh and bitter herbs, represents the bricks the Hebrew slaves were forced to make without straw.

Salt water recalls the bitterness of tears shed by the slaves. A roasted egg symbolizes the ancient festival offering and the destroyed temple in Jerusalem, as well as rebirth; a roasted shank bone is symbolic of the paschal lamb that was sacrificed at the temple and a green vegetable, such as lettuce or parsley, symbolizes spring.

During the seder, wine is blessed and drunk. A special cup is set for the prophet Elijah, who is said to visit every seder in the world. Recently, many American Jewish families also set a goblet of water in honor of Miriam, the sister of Moses, who helped to rescue her baby brother and later led the women of Israel in a musical celebration as the Hebrews emerged from the Sea of Reeds, commonly known as the Red Sea.

The participation of children is stressed during the seder, with the youngest child able to do so asking The Four Questions, the answers to which are a concise telling of the Passover story.

Children also enjoy hunting for the Afikomen, a Greek word meaning “dessert.” A piece of matzoh is broken off and hidden during the seder. The child who finds it receives a small gift.

Although the basic stories, foods and rituals remain the same, the richness of Passover is the existence of interpretation of these and the addition of new customs, prayers and writings.

Whether the seder is quick and concise for children or longer and more varied for adults, the message is always the same. Freedom is an ancient heritage which should be treasured and protected.

Temple Beth El extends joyous Passover greetings to the community, in special appreciation of the freedom Jews have enjoyed in the United States of America.

Temple Beth El hosts community Passover seder

  • n  The Board of Temple Beth El invites members and non-affiliated Jews to the synagogue’s annual Passover Community Seder on the second night of the holiday, Tuesday, March 30 at 6 p.m. at the Temple, 1501 E. Alvin St. Please note this is the second night of Passover.
    The seder will be conducted by Rabbi Shimon Paskow, who will lead in the reading of the Haggadah, the story of Passover, and explain ritual foods on the seder plate.
    Chicken and vegetarian dinners are available. Please specify when making reservations. Seating is limited, so those interested are encouraged to make reservations by March 22 by calling Boots Hersh at 922-9688.The cost for TBE adult members is $25.; $15 for children; non-member adults, $30; children $20.
    Active military with ID will be guests of the congregation.
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