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Passover: the basics

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The Story of Passover by David A. Adler, illustrated by Jill Weber  (here)

This year, sundown on April 22 marks the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover. This eight-day holiday celebrates the Jews’ emancipation from slavery after a series of plagues upon the Egyptian people. While it is one of the most celebrated holidays, it doesn’t get “major billing” outside of the Jewish community. Here are a few basics about the holiday and how some of your friends/neighbors might be celebrating this spring.

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Our favorite Passover books.

– The name Pesach (Pei-Samekh-Cheit (in Hebrew)) refers to the passing-over of Jewish houses when a plague killed the first-born son of each family. This is part of the story of Passover that we read with our families even at a young age. (Here is a great collection of plague coloring pages!)

– Anyone who is “keeping Passover” is avoiding chametz (חָמֵץ), or leavened bread. When the Jews escaped from Egypt, their bread did not have time to rise, so it cooked in the sun, without leavening, while they w27375alked. This is why we eat matzah and other unleavened breads.

– A seder (Seder (in Hebrew)), or dinner, is held at the start of the holiday. The word seder roughly translates to mean “order” as there is a very specific sequence of foods, prayers, stories, songs and glasses of wine. The seder plate contains symbolic items (seen at right). Passover is one holiday that my family has traditionally invited non-Jewish friends to celebrate.

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Family seder – 2013.

– A haggadah (הַגָּדָה), prayer book, is used during the seder. I just learned that our famhaggadahily haggadas date back to 1923! We sign our name inside the books each seder and always get a kick out of seeing who had the books in prior years. There are wine and charoses stains on various pages and these have become a true family artifact.

– The afikomen (אפיקומן) is a piece of matzah that is split during the service and hidden somewhere in the house. Although the dinner can sometimes be long, knowing that children get to search for the afikomen towards the end does help. I remember being extra attentive to when anyone was using the restroom and peeking under the table in case it was passed between grown-ups. Everyone looks forward to finding the afikomen – and getting a small prize for returning it so that it could be distributed for dessert.

– Charoses (חֲרֽוֹסֶת), aka “the paste,” is one item we eat during the seder. It is spread between two small pieces of matzah, generally with a small piece of bitter herb (horseradish). It is made to symbolize the mortar and bricks the Jews used when enslaved by the Pharaoh. It’s delicious!

Here’s our favorite recipe from epicurious.com:

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Image from http://divascancook.com

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium Gala or Fuji apples, peeled, cored, and finely diced
  • 1 1/2 cups walnut halves, lightly toasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup sweet red wine such as Manischewitz Extra Heavy Malaga (or grape juice)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and let sit at room temperature until serving. It also keeps well for a few days in the fridge.

How are you celebrating Passover this year? 

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