Note: The morning of March 25 begins the Fast of the Firstborn in which observant firstborn sons fast to commemorate the salvation of firstborns in ancient Egypt.
SUNSET, MONDAY, MARCH 25: “Pesach, Passover, follows Purim by a month and a day and commemorates the liberation of the People of Israel from Egyptian slavery. Outside of the High Holidays, Passover is likely the most widely observed holiday of the Jewish calendar.” So writes nationally known columnist and author Debra Darvick in her newly released This Jewish Life: Stories of Discovery, Connection & Joy. You’ll enjoy reading her entire overview of this festival.
It’s the 15th day of Nisan as Jews gather around Seder tables, raise multiple glasses of wine and say a prayer for the Feast of Unleavened Bread—otherwise known as Passover. (Check out the Jewish Virtual Library or Wikipedia to learn more.) Like their ancestors before them, Jews today use symbols and readings during the Seder to recall the stories of Exodus in the Torah (and in the Christian Old Testament).
As the ancient Hebrews ran from their houses before their bread could rise, free at last, so today’s Jews ensure that their kosher Passover meals contain no chametz. In fact, observant families clean all traces of non-kosher-for-Passover foods out of their homes. Many switch to different dishes, eating utensils and cooking equipment to avoid any contact with traces of such foods. Chametz is defined as anything involving biological leavening, including simply wetting grains and let them stand for more than 18 minutes. Five grains, in particular, are identified: wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats. (Learn more—and even sell off your chametz online—at Chabad.org.)
The goal is to observe ancient customs—then to freshen the associated stories for each new generation. So, for example: Wondering what if Moses had had Facebook? Access modern takes on ancient Passover stories at Aish.com.
The Seder includes many steps and lasts for hours. Stressing over the pressure of hosting a Seder? Take some advice from a cookbook veteran in this article from the Washington Post. Or, try a Passover app. All adults present at the Seder are required to drink a total of four cups of wine during the Passover Seder, and further, the Mishnah commands that even the poorest man in Israel has an obligation to drink. Interspersed throughout prayer and stories are the breaking of matzah (unleavened) bread; the washing of the hands; the eating of the symbolic elements on the Seder plate; and, of course, the eating of the holiday meal itself. The whole evening ends with a joint exclamation: “Next year in Jerusalem!”
For the next seven days—or eight, in the Diaspora—Jews will partake of no chametz at any meal. Jews commonly enjoy foods such as potato starch cakes, Gelfite fish, chicken soup with matzah balls and generous amounts of egg. Beginning on the second night of Passover, Jews begin the Counting of the Omer—a 50-day countdown to the holiday of Shavuot.
IN THE NEWS: PASSOVER 2013
Ever wonder what a Seder would be like in Paris? France has the largest Jewish population of any country in Europe, yet few French Jews are open about their affiliation. Get a firsthand look at the challenges of tracking down kosher foods and Jewish friends in this article from the New York Times. Or, get a visual with a slideshow of Passover time in Paris. Hungry to mix your heritage with Judaism? Get delicious recipes, and an insightful look at blending cultures, in this interview with a Mexican Jew. Not looking to cook this year? Kosher Today reports in the Jewish Press that approximately 60,000 Americans and Canadians will spend more than $200 million this Passover, with many hiring private chefs.
HOLIDAY RESOURCES: FOODS & IDEAS
Many websites offer free tips, recipes, thought-provoking readings to share at the Seder and other holiday ideas. In Washington D.C., the Obama family always hosts and attends a small Seder primarily for Jewish members of the White House staff. One of the most popular Passover ideas the White House has shared is this page containing holiday-appropriate recipes contributed by eight different chefs. If you’ve got a taste for spinach, don’t miss the Spinach with Pine Nuts and Raisins. Want sweets? Plan ahead to make this Passover Lemon Sponge Cake with Strawberries. Or, try the Boston Globe’s recipe for Passover Chocolate Mousse. Yum!
DR. M.L. KING: LESSONS OF PASSOVER FOR EVERYONE
The most frequently quoted non-Jewish source at Seders may be the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—a great choice to spark discussion at the dinner table. Hundreds of King’s texts are available online, including messages King delivered about the Exodus story. Like most African-American pastors, King drew on Exodus as a core narrative in the struggle for justice.
Among King’s most famous messages was a lengthy 1957 sermon in which he declared that the Exodus story is as true today as it was thousands of years ago. One lesson King drew was: “The oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it.” Later in the sermon, he added: “Freedom only comes through persistent revolt, through persistent agitation, through persistently rising up against the system of evil.” Finally, he argued that this struggle is best accomplished through nonviolent means: “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation. In the aftermath of violence are emptiness and bitterness.”