Jewish Passover Holiday Begins at Sundown on Monday

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President Obama celebrates Passover with a Seder at the White House in 2013. White House photo

Jews in San Diego and across the world will celebrate the first night of Passover on Monday, recalling the events in the Book of Exodus at Seder feasts and giving thanks to God for deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

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The word “Seder” means “order” in Hebrew, and a Seder follow a ritual order accompanied by reading from the Haggadah, or “narration” book, which tells the story of the Israelites’ deliverance from bondage.

“This evening we begin the great holiday of Passover. We celebrate not only the liberation of our people from slavery, but we remind ourselves that God entered history as a God who loves freedom and wants all people to be free,” said Michael Berk, senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel. “It is a universal message that love, peace, tolerance, and freedom are what God wants for the world.”

Berk added that on Passover Jews in San Diego and elsewhere will mourn the tragic deaths of three people Sunday at Jewish centers in Overland Park, KS.

“As we gather for our Seders tonight we will diminish the joy for our freedom when we remove drops of wine from our glasses as we remember the 10 plagues and the suffering they caused,” he said .”Tonight those drops will also remind us of the bloodshed in Kansas City and the task that remains to remove violence and oppression from the world.”

A Seder features six symbolic foods, beginning with matzos, a cracker-like unleavened bread symbolizing the Exodus from ancient Egypt when there was not enough time to let the bread rise. During Passover, observant Jews do not eat leavened bread.

Bitter herbs, often horseradish, represent the bitterness of slavery; parsley dipped in saltwater symbolizes the tears the Israelites shed in bondage; an apple, nut, spice and wine mixture called charoset represents what the Old Testament describes as the mortar used by Jewish slaves to build Egyptian edifices; a hard-boiled egg recalling the ancient temple in Jerusalem; and a lamb bone.

According to the Book of Exodus, the enslaved Israelites used the blood of lambs to mark their doors so the Angel of Death would “pass over” their homes and instead slay the firstborn sons of Egyptians — the 10th and most horrific of the plagues that finally persuaded the pharaoh to agree to Moses’ demand: “Let my people go.”

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During the Seder, people drink four cups of wine or grape juice, symbolizing the promises that God made to the Israelites, including deliverance from bondage. Also as part of the ritual, a child traditionally asks “the four questions.”

The introductory question of “Why is this night different from all other nights?” is followed by “Why is that on all other nights during the year we eat either bread or matzo, but on this night we eat matzo?” “Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?” “Why is it on all other nights we do not dip even once, but on this night we dip twice?” and “Why is it that on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat in a reclining position?”

The purpose of the questions is to spark discussion and learning, as teaching the Exodus story to children is one of the most important elements of the Passover Seder.

Passover commemorates the time between the Exodus from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea seven days later.

The holiday is observed for seven days in Israel, with one Seder, and eight days outside Israel, with two. This is because it is held that people in ancient times who lived far from Jerusalem could not know when a new month under the Hebrew lunar calendar had been officially declared and, in turn, could not be sure of the exact date.

Passover is an entirely home-based ritual observance, which does not require a rabbi. Unlike most Jewish holy days, there is no synagogue service for Passover, although some congregations and other organizations conduct Seders.

— City News Service contributed to this article

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