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June 1, 2016

Chag Pesach Sameach! Happy Passover!

Chag Pesach Sameach! The 15th day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar has finally arrived. On behalf of Scholastic Book Clubs, we’d like to wish you a very happy Passover.

Historically speaking, Passover is an eight-day observance commemorating the liberation of the Israelites from their enslavement in Egypt under the oppressive Pharaoh, and their exodus from Egypt lead by Moses on behalf of God. To summarize, God recognized and sympathized with the Israelites’ suffering and sent Moses to the Pharaoh to ask him to “let His people go.” When the Pharaoh refused to emancipate the Israelites (and after many warnings), God released ten deadly plagues (blood, frogs, lice, flies, diseased livestock, boils, thunder and hail, locusts, darkness, death of the first born). The last plague is, in fact, where the name Passover originates: God instructed the Israelites to mark their doorposts with lamb’s blood so that the plague would “pass over” and spare them. After these deadly, damaging plagues occurred, the Pharaoh briefly agreed to let the Israelites go, and it was the changing of his mind that ultimately lead to his demise. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt to begin the journey to Mount Sinai, they were barred by the Red Sea. God split the deep waters so that they could pass. When the Pharaoh came after them, God closed the path and the Pharaoh and his people drowned. The Israelites were finally free and a new world ensued under Moses’s guidance.

Every year my family and I spend the first night of Passover at my grandparent’s house on Long Island with my dad’s extended family for the Seder. I absolutely love this holiday because it is the one time of the year where I can say I am in a room with almost all of my first, second, third, and fourth cousins and great-aunts and uncles and great-great-aunts and uncles. I have an incredibly big and loving extended family, and having the opportunity to be with all of them during a holiday that represents one of the most relevant events in Jewish history reminds me of how lucky we are to have each other. My grandma, aka the family matriarch, has a web of cousins, aunts, and other strong-willed women, all of whom are close in age and more like sisters. In the kitchen at my parents’ house, there is a framed recipe of all of the “sisters” over my great-great-aunt Blanche’s recipe for stuffed breast of veal. When she passed away about nine years ago, my dad felt it was his duty to take over cooking the stuffed breast of veal, and he has cooked it to juicy perfection every year since. My grandma couldn’t be more proud.

Now to the Seder—this long, loud, and wonderfully crazy meal consists of tons of amazing food, quality family time, and of course, the ritual prayer service that we follow from the Passover Haggadah. During the Seder the children are meant to read the prayer Mah Nishtana—but because all of the “children,” aka my cousins and I, are now in our twenties, we recite the prayer together, switching off line by line. The phrase “Mah nishtana ha-laila ha-zeh literally means “Why is this night different from all other nights?” And a series of answers follow. I truly enjoy this moment in the Seder because it encourages our family, and I believe other families alike, to really think about why the holiday is so special and different from other days.

Along with the said prayers, we eat many delicious and symbolic foods, the most iconic Passover food of all being matzah. Matzah represents when the Israelites left Egypt so quickly after the ten plagues that they did not even have time to leaven the bread they baked! The plain, flat, crunchy cracker that is matzah was thus created. Consequently we do not eat anything with leavening, or chametz (wheat, barley, oat, spelt, and rye) during Passover. Moreover, in the center of the table lies the Seder plate, rested in front of my grandfather’s silver kiddish cup. This symbolic plate includes the following items: maror (bitter herbs) to represent the harsh enslavement of the Israelites under the Pharaoh, charoset (an apple-nut-cinnamon mixture) to reference the materials that the Israelites used to build the pyramids, karpas (boiled parsley dipped in salt water) to indicate tears, the z’roa (shank bone) to highlight the Passover sacrifice at the Tempe in Jerusalem, and beitzah (hard-boiled egg) to epitomize sacrifice.

Jewish people around the world celebrate for eight days to appreciate, internalize, and understand the valuable and hard-earned freedom that our Jewish ancestors gained.


This article may have ended, but Passover is still going on! To learn more about and prepare for this important holiday, we have a few book selections you don’t want to miss: This Is the Matzah, The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah in the Passover Picture Book Pack in Firefly March, and Dayenu! A Favorite Passover Song in Honeybee March!


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One Response

  1. Pamela Berben

    Thank you, Annie, for sharing your view on what Passover means to you. I am married to a man of Jewish faith & was searching for information on the proper greeting for Passover. In the process, I also looked up the pronunciation for the same. This is how I came across your article
    I felt your joy as I read it. I learned about the seder platter & what it represents. You’ve inspired me to keep on my way to learn more about the Judaism. I love seeing my husband beam when I say, do, or prepare something for the Festivals or Holidays. My husband was born on Yom Kipper, this time of fasting is where my heartfelt desire to learn of & live by the Jewish tenets.

    Chag Pesach Sameach

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