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June 1, 2016

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Happy Passover! Chag Pesach Sameach!

Jewish people all over the world gather tonight for the Passover seder. Seder means “order” in Hebrew, and reading the Passover Haggadah during the meal helps us follow a specific order of events. Before we can enjoy the delicious food, we first retell the story of our ancient ancestors and their exodus from Egypt.

The Haggadah tells us that enslaved Israelites were suffering under the cruelty of the Egyptian Pharaoh, and they prayed for help. God sent Moses to ask the Pharaoh to free the slaves and let them leave Egypt. When the Pharaoh refused, God sent ten deadly plagues (blood, frogs, lice, flies, diseased livestock, boils, thunder and hail, locusts, darkness, and the death of the first born). The last plague is where the name Passover comes from: God instructed the Israelites to mark their doorposts so that the plague would “pass over” and spare them. After the tenth plague, the Pharaoh finally agreed to let the Israelites go.

As we read the story, we also think about the present day. The Four Questions ask us to think about how the night of the seder is different from all other nights in the year. To me, this is what Passover is truly about—immersing ourselves in the “why” behind the rituals we perform. In my parents’ house, it’s traditional for each person to read a passage from the Haggadah aloud as we go around the table. Our seders are large, with a mix of Jewish and non-Jewish people, and usually at least one person who has never been to a seder before. Like the Four Questions, having new people join our seder makes me really think about the significance of the words we recite.

We also eat many symbolic foods—most importantly unleavened bread, or matzah, since the ancient Israelites were in such a rush to leave Egypt that they didn’t have time to let their bread rise. We place special foods on the central seder plate, including bitter herbs to represent the harsh enslavement of the Israelites; sweet charoset paste to remind us of the mortar that the Israelites used to build the pyramids; parsley dipped in salt water to symbolize tears; a hard-boiled egg to signify life; and a shank bone to highlight the Passover sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. (Don’t worry, no one eats the shank bone!)

The celebratory and communal seder is just the beginning. For the next eight days, we avoid unleavened bread to commemorate and appreciate our ancestors’ hard-earned freedom.

Chag Pesach Sameach! Happy Passover!

You can find the following books and eBooks about Passover online now:

A Sweet Passover

The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah

This Is the Matzah

Dayenu! A Favorite Passover Song

Wonders and Miracles: A Passover Companion

 

 

About the Author: Dana Shaked is the Assistant Director of Creative Services for the teacher pages of the Reading Club catalogs.

 

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