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April 3, 2012 > Passover: Celebration and Remembrance

Passover: Celebration and Remembrance

By Jessica Noel Flohr

The cold days of winter are quickly making way for the beauty of spring. This season brings many wonderful family celebrations. One well-known spring holiday is the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread, more commonly known as "Passover." Every spring Jewish families around the world gather in their homes or synagogues for a Passover Seder to celebrate freedom and remember their history.

The story of Passover comes from the book of Exodus. According to the biblical account, the Jewish people were kept in slavery by the Egyptian Pharaoh. Pharaoh issued an order to kill all young Hebrew boys but one mother managed to send her infant to safety. Moses' mother hid him in a basket and sent him down the Nile River; he was found by Pharaoh's daughter and raised in the royal household. As an adult, Moses was called by God to lead the Israelites to freedom, out of Egypt.

Moses attempted to negotiate, but Pharaoh refused to release the Israelites. God sent ten plagues to convince Pharaoh, the last of which was the plague of the firstborn. During the final plague, God struck down firstborn sons of the Egyptians, but passed over Hebrew households who were instructed to mark their doorposts with blood of a sacrificed lamb. Finally convinced, Pharaoh grudgingly allowed the Israelites to leave.

In their haste to escape, bread was prepared quickly without the rising action of yeast; the Israelites ate unleavened bread. In remembrance of this, the Passover feast or "Seder" celebrating the exodus from slavery includes unleavened bread, called matzah.

The term "Seder" means order. Rabbi Avi Schulman of Temple Beth Torah in Fremont said, "A Passover Seder is an evening meal held during Passover to tell the story of the Israelites liberation from Egypt. It incorporates specific food items and prayers in an order the helps Jews to re-experience the exodus." This meal incorporates those of all ages. The youngest member present participates through asking a series of traditional questions, to explain the significance of this evening.

The meal is punctuated with prayers, blessings, and wine. Special food is served: Maror, bitter herbs to represent the bitterness of slavery; Z'Roa, a lamb bone representing the sacrifices of the Jewish people; Karpas, green herbs dipped in salt water to signify the tears of the Israelites; Charoset, a mix of apples, nuts and spices represents the mortar used by the Israelites when building for the Egyptians; and Beitzah, a hardboiled egg that can symbolize spring as well as mourning over the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem.

This year Passover begins after sunset on April 6. While it may seem that the date of Passover is variable, it is always on the same Hebrew date. The Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle. Passover begins on the fifteenth day of Nisan according to the Jewish calendar. The Gregorian calendar, which is what most people find when they open their date books, is solar and differs somewhat from the lunar calendar.

"Passover is very much a festive celebration. One of the best parts about it is that it's a gathering of young and old. It offers encouragement for youngsters to ask questions and adults to engage in conversation. It's not simply passively reading through a book; it's meant to be a lively, interactive, learning celebration," says Rabbi Schulman. This festival is open to all. One does not have to be Jewish to attend. "It's wonderful when we have guests at our Seder! Whether the person is Jewish or not, there is room for everyone at the table. I welcome anybody who wants to be part of the celebration."

The central message of Passover is of freedom - both for the Jewish people as a whole, and for each individual person who wants to take the lessons to heart. Rabbi Schulman adds, "Each Jew should see him or herself as if he or she was liberated from slavery. Which is to say it's not just a recounting of events 3,000 years ago, but a means of personally connecting to the message of freedom and not only to take that message for oneself but to apply it in one's life and to work for the betterment of other people's lives."

Temple Beth Torah is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. With 200 families, it is a good-sized congregation by national standards. Rabbi Schulman, active in the community for five years, says that they are a "very lively and wonderful group." Come and join this warm and friendly community for the Passover Seder and learn a bit about Jewish history.

Seder Dinner
Saturday, April 7
5:30 p.m.
Temple Beth Torah
42000 Paseo Padre Parkway, Fremont
(510) 656-7141

Adults $28.50, Seniors $22, Children 2-16 $12, Children under 2 are free

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