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Passover: celebrating the story of Exodus

 

In the Exodus story, the Red Sea parts allowing Moses and the Israelites to escape from Egypt. (Illustration by Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing licensed CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Jewish festival of Passover is a very special holiday that celebrates the Jewish peoples' freedom from the pharaoh of Egypt over 3,000 years ago. This is a story known as the Exodus.

It’s the oldest, continuously celebrated holiday of the Jewish calendar and runs for seven or eight days, depending on where you live. This year it begins on the evening of March 27.


The Passover Meal

Passover starts with a big ritual meal known as the Seder (say “say-der”), which means “order” in Hebrew. Family and friends come together to eat traditional dishes. 

the traditional Seder Plate

Photo by Edsel Little licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

A special Seder plate is placed on the table with symbolic foods that represent parts of the Passover story such as hard-boiled eggs, greens, a lamb bone, bitter herbs, salt water, haroset (a mixture of nuts, apples and wine) and matzah (say “ma-tsah”).


Matzah

a stack of matzah crackers

(mhaithaca via Visualhunt)

A very important food on the Seder table, matzah is the crunchy cracker-like bread made from flour and water that is unleavened, which means it hasn’t been allowed the time to rise.

The story goes that the Israelites were forced to leave Egypt so quickly that they didn’t have time to wait for their bread to rise. They put the dough in travelling sacks and as they crossed the desert, the hot sun baked the dough into the thin, hard matzah.

At the beginning of the Seder meal, one piece of the matzah is broken and a piece of it is hidden. After the meal, the children search for this piece, called the afikoman (say “a-fee-ko-mahn”), and the child who finds it gets money or candy as a reward.


Passover celebrations

Due to the pandemic celebrations are more challenging, but let's see how Passover celebrations have usually occurred in the past.

Israel

a group of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men burn leavened food before Passover

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men burned leavened items (made with yeast) such as bread as part of a ritual before the start of Passover, 2016. (Mehahem Kahana/Getty Images)

Passover is one of the most sacred holidays for Jews living in Israel and elsewhere. They celebrate the seven-day festival by enjoying the first and last days as legal holidays and many take the week off to travel around the country. During Passover, Jews refrain from eating leavened food (made with yeast) such as bread and stores stop selling bread and bread products for the entire week.

Ethiopia

Ethiopian Jews break their dishes at Passover

Photo by joshhikes licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Some Ethiopian Jews destroy their dishes and cookware and make new ones to signify their hope for redemption.

Poland

In a small Polish town some Jewish people mark Passover by re-enacting the crossing of the Red Sea. They pour water on the floor, lift their coats and walk across giving thanks with a raised glass as they go.

Nepal

women light candles at a Seder in Nepal

A group of Israeli women light candles during a Passover ceremony in Kathmandu, 2013. (Prakash Mathema/Getty Images)

Chabad of Nepal hosts the world’s largest celebration of Passover in Kathmandu, called Seder on Top of the World. It’s attended by Jewish locals and travellers who have come for the unique experience.