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Thursday, 29 March 2018


Passover set
By Sabrina Barr

The ancient Jewish festival of Passover usually lasts for eight days.
Let's talk about it...

Every year, Jewish families all over the world sit themselves around the Seder table and recount the tale of how Moses led the Jews out of Egypt following centuries of slavery.

Passover, otherwise known as Pesach in Hebrew, is regarded as one of the most important festivals in the Jewish calendar.

Over the course of seven or eight days, Jews read from the Haggadah, eat matzah and rid their houses of all traces of wheat.

So what’s this ancient festival all about? Here’s everything you need to know.

When does it start?

Passover starts on Friday March 30 this year (2018) and will last for seven or eight days.

Passover is traditionally observed for eight days by many Jews around the world, including Jews who left Israel as part of the Jewish diaspora.

For those celebrating Passover for eight days, it will end this year on the evening of Saturday April 7.

In the Torah (the body of Jewish scripture), Passover begins on the 15th of Nissan, the day in the Jewish calendar on which the Jews departed from Egypt.

It’s no coincidence that Passover coincides with the Christian festival of Easter, with Good Friday also taking place this week.

In the ancient languages of Latin and Greek, Easter was called Pascha, which derives from the Hebrew word Pesach.

How important is it?

Raymond Simonson, CEO of North London Jewish community centre JW3, says that Passover is one of the most important Jewish festivals.

“Even the most secular Jews, who might not celebrate any other festival – they might not fast on Yom Kippur, or go to Synagogue on Jewish New Year,” he said.

“If there’s one festival they’ll do it’s more likely to be Pesach than anything else.”
During Passover Jews eat matzah, which is unleavened bread
What’s it all about?

During Passover, Jewish people remember how Moses freed the Israelites from slavery under the reign of the Egyptian Pharaohs, as stated by the Torah.

Moses was raised as the adopted son of the Pharaoh’s daughter, who found him in an ark by a riverbank in Egypt.

His mother had given him away following orders by the Pharaoh to drown all male Hebrew children in the river Nile in the hopes that he would survive.

As an adult, Moses discovered his true identity and was instructed by God to lead the Jewish people from Egypt to Canaan, the “Promised Land”.

Moses proceeded to ask the Pharaoh to let his people go, which the Pharaoh initially refused.

According to the Book of Exodus, Moses warned the Pharaoh that if he failed to free the Israelites, Egypt would be hit by a host of terrible plagues.

After the people of Egypt had been subjected to ten plagues, which included blood, frogs, boils, locusts, darkness and the death of every firstborn son, the Pharaoh eventually relented and allowed the enslaved Jews to leave Egypt.

The Jews spent forty years travelling in the desert before reaching the “Promised Land”.

Why is it called Passover?

Jewish people believe that when the Pharaoh refused to free the slaves and turned a blind eye to the other plagues wreaking havoc on his people, God then inflicted the worst plague of all – the death of every firstborn male in Egypt.

However, God first instructed Moses to tell the Israelites that in order to protect their firstborn sons, they should mark their doors with lambs’ blood.

In this way, God would know to “pass over” their houses and spare them from the plague.
Jewish people read from the Haggadah during the Seder night
How is it celebrated in the UK?

Jewish families come together for a traditional meal called the Seder, which means “order”, because everything is done in a particular order, according to a book called the Haggadah.

“The whole theme of the special meal on the Seder night is to remember the exodus of Egypt as if we were there,” said Simonson.

“It’s not when ‘they’ were, our ancestors. It’s ‘when I left Egypt, this is what happened to me.’ It’s educational and experiential.

“We must remember what it was like when we were slaves, so we must fight so there are no more slaves and everyone is free."

The Seder plate includes a variety of foods, each which is symbolic.

The lamb bone represents the blood of the lamb that adorned the doors of the Jews as God passed over them; the roasted hard-boiled egg is a symbol of mourning; the maror (bitter herbs) represents the bitterness the Jews had to endure as slaves; the charoset (a sweet, brown concoction) represents the mortar the Jews used to build the Egyptian pyramids; and the dipping of parsley into salt water represents the tears of the enslaved Jews.

What is matzah?

According to the Book of Exodus, the Israelites left Egypt in such a rush that their bread didn’t have time to rise.

This why Jewish people eat unleavened bread during Passover, which is otherwise known as “matzah”.

It is traditionally viewed as the bread of the poor, and is symbolically consumed to remind followers of their ancestors’ hardships.

For seven or eight days after the first Seder night, Jewish people abstain from eating all sorts of leavened foods including bread, cakes and muffins.

Some people come up with creative solutions to this, including Simonson.

“I make lasagna but with sheets of matzah instead of pasta,” he said.

During the Seder night, many Jewish children play a game in which one piece of matzah, called the afikoman, is hidden. The child who finds the afikoman at the end of the meal wins a prize.
Every piece of food on the Seder plate is symbolic
What other foods and drink are consumed during Passover?

“Whether to eat rice or beans is one of the most discussed customs or traditions,” explained Simonson.

“It’s what everyone seems to be talking about at the moment.”

Some grains and other foods, such as beans, peas, corns, rice, chickpeas and sesame, are traditionally prohibited by some Jewish people during Passover. These are known as kitniyot.

However, many Sephardic Jews, Jews who can trace their ancestry back to the Iberian Peninsula during the early Middle Ages, continue to eat kitniyot on Passover.

“It depends on your family and background,” Simonson said.

“Every year, more and more people say: ‘Hold on, this kitniyot isn’t forbidden by law in the same way. “It’s more of a tradition to do with how they were packed in sacks.’”

How do Jewish people prepare for Passover?

As leavened goods are banned during the holiday, the weeks leading up to Passover are traditionally spent cleaning.

Every nook and cranny is scrubbed to get rid of even the tiniest forbidden crumb that might lurk there. Some say this tradition is the origin of the more widely known Spring clean.

Many Jews use crockery that has been set aside for special use during the festival.
Jewish families recall how Moses led the Jews out of Egypt on Passover