Once, a non-Jewish guy asked his Jewish friend: “What is so unique about the Jewish holy days?” His friend looked at him and said: “Well, it's very simple, actually. You can sum up all the Jewish holy days in 9 words: they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”
Many of the Jewish holy days celebrate the victory of the Jews over their enemies and the survival of the Jewish people and their tradition. And always – yes, always – the celebration is accompanied by a huge meal. And Passover is the biggest culinary event of them all. The traditional Passover meal includes chopped liver with boiled eggs, gefilte fish (sweet fish balls with carrots), matzoth ball soup, brisket with potatoes and vegetables, an assortment of cakes, and lots of wine.
Take the name "Passover" literally.
Passover is the holy day of freedom and redemption. After 400 years of slavery under the rule of several Egyptian Pharaohs, Moses led the Israelites to freedom. Every year, Jews all over the world celebrate this miracle of redemption with several customs that commemorate and revive that special night when slaves became a free nation and God stained every Egyptian home with grief while passing over the Jewish homes.
Since the Israelites snuck out of Egypt in the middle of the night and did not have time to bake bread for the journey, Jews are forbidden to eat bread or anything that has flour or yeast for a week. Instead of bread, Jews eat Matzo, a flat cracker made of a special flour.
On Passover Eve all families gather for a big meal called “The Sader.” “The Hagadah” (the book that tells the story of Passover) is read aloud and special songs are sung. The table is set with fine china, with the "Passover plate" in the middle. This special addition includes a boiled egg (a symbol for hardship and slavery), bitter herbs (to symbolize the misery of the Israelites in Egypt), a drumstick (a symbol for God’s strong hand against the Egyptians), and Haroses (a mixture of nuts, apples, and dates that symbolizes the materials used by the Israelites to build the Pyramids).
Don't take "Jewish Santa" literally.
Elisha the Prophet is the Jewish Santa, who visits every Jewish home on Passover night to drink some wine from a special cup called “Elisha’s cup.” (No milk and cookies for the Jewish Santa.) I spent scores of nights waiting to see Elisha. I never did, but in the morning his cup was always empty. A miracle! But, the best thing of all is the “hide and seek” Passover game. Grandpa hides a piece of Matzo and all the children go nuts looking for it. The kid who is lucky enough to find the “treasure” receives a special gift. In my time it was a basketball or even a bike. Nowadays, the kids won’t settle for less than an iPod or an iPhone.
Passover is the perfect time to connect to the languages of Jewish heritage. Click below to start learning Hebrew, Yiddish, or any of over 70 other languages now.