Congregation Beth Shalom in DeKalb will mark the holiday of Passover with a Seder on March 26, open to congregation members and their guests. The Seder will be conducted by congregation member Avi Bass, assisted by Harvey Blau, the director of the congregation’s choir, Koleynu.
Passover is one of the best-known Jewish holidays. It is one of the major festivals that are considered significant both agriculturally and historically. Agriculturally, it represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel. Historically, it is related to the Exodus from Egypt after 400 years of slavery, as told in the Book of Exodus. Passover lasts for eight days.
The name “Passover” comes from the Hebrew word Pesach, which is based on the root “pass over.” This refers to the fact that during the last of the 10 plagues brought against Egypt, God “passed over” the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of the Egyptians.
Among the most important Passover observances is the removal of all leavened bread from homes and property. This is anything made from wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt. Some Jews also do not eat rice, corn, peanuts and legumes. The removal of leavened bread commemorates the fact that the Jews had to leave Egypt in a hurry and thus did not have time to let their bread rise. Houses also are cleaned thoroughly to remove all traces of leavened bread.
On the first two nights of Passover, Jews have a special family or community meal called a Seder. The word “Seder” is a Hebrew root word meaning “order.” There is a specific order to the meal and specific information that must be covered while telling the story of the Exodus. To follow the process, the text of the Seder is written in a book called the Haggadah. It tells exactly what prayers, stories, songs and rituals are to be followed during the meal.
A number of special foods are eaten during the Seder. In addition to matzoh, they include charoseth (a mixture – often of apples, nuts and wine – to remind Jews of the mortar used by their ancestors in Egypt when they were slaves), bitter herbs (usually horseradish, to remind Jews of the bitterness of slavery), and a vegetable, usually parsley, that is dipped in salt water (to remind Jews of the tears shed during the years of slavery).