Observing Passover

Monday evening was the beginning of the Jewish holiday known as Passover. The holiday commemorates the story told in Exodus in the Bible, when the Israelites left Egypt and slavery behind.

A Passover seder meal begins the holiday which lasts for eight days (or seven days in Israel). Some people observe a second seder meal the next evening.

Pictured above is how a seder meal might be presented. The items on a seder plate have symbolic meaning and are used during the 15 parts, or steps, of the meal.

Green vegetables are said to represent hope and redemption. Typically, they are served with a bowl of salted water to remind the participants of the tears the Israelites shed in captivity. Maror is bitter herbs, often represented by horseradish and is a symbol of the bitterness of slavery. The roasted egg is the symbol of life and its continuation. The shank bone represents the sacrificial offering. Haroset (also found as Charoset or Charoses) is a paste of fruit – often apple – and nuts mixed with wine and cinnamon. This is said to represent the mortar used by the Jewish people in the construction of buildings as slaves in Egypt.

Three matzot (plural of matzah) are placed on a cloth to remind the participants of the haste of the departure from Egypt. Because of the haste, the bread did not have time to rise before baking.

In many Jewish households, the house must be rid of leavened bread (and other leavened items) before the celebration of Passover.

During the meal, the middle matzah is broken into two pieces, and the larger piece hidden. The piece is called afikomen (or aftkomen) and can be translated as dessert. However, it is meant in the sense that it is the last thing eaten at the meal rather than a typical sweet dessert. Other desserts can be served first, but the afikomen is the last item eaten before the meal ends.

In some versions of the custom, the children steal and hide the afikomen. They receive a small gift or treat for bringing it back. In other versions, the seder leader hides it, the children look for it and are rewarded for finding it. In any case, it is a way to keep the children involved in the meal.

During the meal, “Kosher for Passover” wine is generally served. Kosher food is created under the supervision of a rabbi. Kosher for Passover wine must be made without a fermentation aid (yeast or mold) that has been grown on bread. It also must exclude some common preservatives. Some people use grape juice instead.

Elijah’s cup is filled with wine and the door is opened, inviting the prophet to come into the house.

An important part of the meal is the retelling of the exodus story. The youngest person (usually a child) at the table asks questions about Passover, about why this day is different from others. Those answering the questions often use the Haggadah, a book that gives information and prayers for Passover

Four types of children are described: the wise child, the wicked child, the simple child and the child who doesn’t know how to ask a question.

Linda Dunn, who gave an overview of the holiday and offered resources for understanding the traditions, said that this is a part of the ceremony that is very meaningful for her. “It’s important for us to realize that our heritage shapes who we become.”

Comments on this article may be directed to dchodan@observertoday.com