Many believe that Hannukah is the Jewish parallel of Christmas, but the real festive event of the Jewish calendar – when families unite, children get the best presents, and grown-ups go mental over preparations – is Passover. The Passover is celebrated in memory of the biblical Exodus, when the Israelites were saved from a life of slavery in Egypt. In the days of the ancient Jewish kingdom, this holiday was merged with agricultural spring festivities. One of the reasons that the Passover has become so important is that it commemorates this key event in the birth of the Jewish nation.
(photo credit: Rebecca Siegel)
The ancient and complex traditions of Passover, combined with the modern way of life, create interesting holiday customs. Many know that Jews are not allowed to eat leavened bread during the week of Passover, opting for matzos instead. But it is a little known fact that, in order to fill the commandment instructing Jews to look for leavened products and take them away before the holiday, some housewives hide small sacks with breadcrumbs around the house and let their husband look for them, lighting their way with a traditional candle.
The main event.
The Seder gathering itself is conducted after everyone is exhausted from cooking, cleaning, and long-distance travel. It begins with a long reading and singing of the Haggadah, a compilation of ancient texts about Passover, around the dinner table. Family members take turns reading, culminating in a mammoth-sized traditional dinner. One ornamented silver cup is filled with sweet wine and left on the table for the prophet Elijah, who comes in to take a sip through the (traditionally open) front door after everyone has fallen asleep.
Something special for the children.
Kids look forward to finding the Afikoman, a specific, hidden matzo. Locating and seizing it, they negotiate with the head of the family for its return in exchange for a generous present. I remember haggling with my grandfather, a vicious negotiator, over the gifts I wanted and losing miserably; my uncles and aunties fighting each other passionately and bitterly; my grandmother trying to make peace; singing all the songs; my father telling the same jokes he tells every year; the great food, including squeezed grape juice, Gefilte Fish with horseradish, roast beef with potatoes, and eggplants in tomato sauce; and Elijah's cup the morning after, resting on the table, half empty.
My uncle told us years later that it was him, sneaking in the middle of the night and drinking Elijah's wine, but all the other uncles and aunts agree that he is a well-known liar and no-one should believe a word he says.
Passover is right now, but it's not too late to start your own Hebrew adventure. Click below to get started today.