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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Happy Passover פֶּסַח

This evening marks the beginning of the 2009 festival of Passover.

To our Jewish readers, we at NPI wish you a Happy Passover and a festive Seder with friends and relatives. Let your children find the affikomen, and may Elijah come to your door tonight. As you celebrate the Exodus from Egypt please remember progressive ideals and place an orange on your Seder plate.

Please fill a Miriam's cup. And pray and drink that fifth cup of wine at the end of the Seder for peace in the land of Israel; may next year be in Jerusalem.

For our readers who are not Jewish, this is a fine opportunity to learn about the holiday. Learning, education, and questioning are all very Jewish concepts.

Here's a quick run-through of a Seder (the ritual meal for Passover).

There are many different ways to run a Seder, but they all involve a haggadah, which tells the story and directs the ritual, and a dinner.

There are different types of haggadot depending on the focus of the Seder. My family uses A Family Haggadah and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants a more progressive haggadah.

During the Seder, a plate is laid out in the middle of table. Placed on the plate are a roasted egg to signify rebirth in spring, karpas (parsley) to signify the springtime, a roasted lamb shank to signify the paschal sacrifice that Jews used to offer in the ancient Temple, maror (a bitter herb, such as horseradish) to signify the bitterness of slavery, and Chazeret, a second bitter herb to represent the bitterness.

Before the Seder, we light the holiday candles and give a blessing.

In Hebrew, we say:
We praise, You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe Who has kept us alive and well so that we can celebrate this special time
The Seder has an order. The word Seder itself, in Hebrew, actually means order.

After the Seder begins, we first say kiddush (the prayer for wine) and drink the first cup of wine. The kiddush signifies freedom and the ability to drink and be merry. Throughout the Seder there are traditionally four cups of wine.

Then we wash our hands to signify the purity of the holiday and get ready for the Seder. It is an act of purification.

After that we dip parsley into salt water to remind us of the tears shed when the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt.

The parsley signifies the greenery of the season and spring.

Then we break the middle matzah and hide the larger half, the Afikomen. This signifies that redemption is incomplete for the Jewish people. There is still war in the world, still hate, still slavery, and therefore we break the middle matzah as a reminder of that. Further, it is hidden which gives time for the children at the Seder to find it and ransom it off for a prize.

In a modern sense, this gives adults time to talk without the children around and to let the kids run wild for a little bit, depending on how well the afikomaen is hidden. Some favorite hiding places for my family are in books, under tables, and taped on the ceiling.

Then we tell the story of Passover - the Exodus from Egypt. This is done every year to make sure we remember the history.

During this portion of the Seder, the youngest child recites the Four Questions. The Four Questions represent the four differences from Passover and a normal day. Why do we exclusively eat matzah instead of bread? Why do we eat marror instead of all vegetables? Why do we dip vegetables twice [in salt water]? Why do we lean on pillows sitting at the table?

This shows the difference between a normal day and a Passover Seder.

The story of Passover is incredibly interesting and I encourage you to read a haggadah - especially this one - and read the story and commentary.

Following the recital of the Four Questions, we drink our second cup of wine and say a blessing over matzah. (Matzah, for those unfamiliar, is an unleavened bread which reminds Jews of the Exodus, which began so quickly that there was not enough time to allow bread to rise.)

Then we bless bitter herbs and charoset and eat a sandwich of it with matzah. This signifies the bitterness of slavery and the mortar used by Jews to create the pyramids for Pharaoh.

Next, we begin the meal - the Passover feast. We eat food like matzah ball soup, brisket, and gefilte fish. Afterwords, we eat the afikoman as desert to signify the start of the second half of the Seder.

Then we drink a third cup of wine and welcome Elijiah. We welcome Elijiah because he is a prophet who brings peace to the world – Jewish tradition teaches that Elijah will announce the arrival of the Messiah.

We hope that this time of peace will come this year.

Then we sing songs of praise and drink a fourth cup of wine. The songs signify freedom and the happiness perceived through singing.

If you get a chance, ask your Jewish friends if you can come to a Seder. It is a great experience, and my family usually has non-Jewish guests.

Many Jews participate in two Seders. Tonight is the night of first Seder, and tomorrow night is Second Seder.

Through the eight days of Passover, Jews may not eat any leavened food so we eat matzah. Besides remembering the Exodus, the festival of Passover is a great time to promote social justice and awareness.

I wish all of our Jewish readers Chag Sameach (happy holiday in Hebrew). And I would also like to thank my rabbi for helping me put together this post.

If you have any family traditions for Passover please describe them below in the comments so we have an opportunity to trade rituals and better our observances.

Again, Chag Sameach and have a peaceful Passover.


Blogger WSPC Member said...


April 11, 2009 9:13 AM  

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