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Passover: Hebrews of the World, Eat Up!

happy_passoverMany 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 are going 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 the key event
in the birth of the Jewish nation.

The ancient and complex traditions of Passover, combined with the modern
way of life, creates interesting holiday customs.  Many know that Jews
are not allowed to eat leavened bread during the week of Passover and
that they have to opt for matzos instead.  It is a little known fact that
in order to fill the commandment instructing Jews to look for leavened
products and take it away before the holiday, some housewives hide small
sacks with breadcrumbs around the house and let their husband look for
them, carrying a traditional candle.  The Seder gathering itself, which
is the main Passover event, is conducted after everybody is ridiculously
tired because of cleaning, cooking, preparing or long distance
traveling.  It begins with a long reading and singing of the Haggadah, a
compilation of ancient texts about Passover, around the dinner table–
the family members are taking turns reading it–and it ends with a
mammoth-sized traditional dinner.  One ornamented silver cup is filled
with sweet wine and left on the table for the prophet Elijah, who should
come when everyone’s asleep (through the traditionally open front door)
and take a sip.

The children get a special treats during the Seder. They are supposed to
find a specific matzo, called the Afikoman, which was hidden away, steal
it carefully, and negotiate with the head of the family for its return
in exchange for a generous present.  My memories as a child from the
Passover Seder include haggling with my grandfather, who was a vicious
negotiator, over the gifts I wanted and losing miserably; my uncles and
aunties fight each other passionately and bitterly, and 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,
eggplants in tomato sauce; and Elijah’s cup in the next morning,
standing 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.

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