Passover 101: From Matza to Mitzvah | Community

Even those in our society who are not religious of any faith know the story of Passover—the redemption and exodus of the ancient Israelites from 300-plus years of slavery in Egypt. Many great films depict this story—my favorite being Cecil B. De Mille’s 1956 epic film, “The Ten Commandments,” starring Charlton Heston. Four hours in length, with a soaring score and some very dated special effects, the Hollywood-ized story remains a true classic today. With that in mind, I would love to present some…

Interesting and Fun Facts About Passover

  • Passover is the most observed of all the Jewish holidays. Even Jews who do not consider themselves religious will celebrate Passover.
  • The word in Hebrew for Egypt is “Mitzrayim” (meetz-RAH-yeem), which means “a narrow place.”
  • Passover takes place on the 15th of the month of Nisan every year. As the Hebrew calendar is lunar/solar based, it changes annually on the Gregorian calendar. However, it is always in the spring. This corresponds to the 15th of April, 2022.
  • “Seder” (which means “order” in Hebrew) is the name of the festive ritualized meal with special (and delicious!) foods, taking place on most commonly on the first and second nights of Passover.
  • The English term, “Passover,” specifically refers to the angel of death “passing over” the houses of the Israelites when the tenth and final plague, the slaying of the firstborn, hits Egypt. According to the Torah, known as the Ten Books of Moses or Jewish Bible, the Israelites were told to put lamb’s blood on the doorposts of their homes to identify themselves as Israelites. We mourn the loss of life of the Egyptians at our at Passover seder.
  • During the seder, the doors are flung open wide to invite in all who may be hungry. (My siblings and I used to let our non-Jewish friends know in advance when to come on over—no one can be turned away!)
  • “Haggadah” (“the telling”) is the name of the Jewish text explaining the complete story of Passover, and is used during the seder. Haggadahs can be customized and there are hundreds of different versions.
  • Food included in the ritual seder: Charoset (ha-RO-set), a mixture of apples, nuts and wine representing the mortar used by the Israelite slaves to build Pharaoh’s cities; parsley, representing spring which is dipped in salt water to represent the tears of the Israelite people; horseradish, representing the bitterness of slavery; a shank bone (not eaten) to represent the lamb (and lamb is often one of the courses for the seder meal as well); egg, representing the renewal of life; and, matza, the unleavened bread that represents that the hastily departing Israelites that did not have time to let their dough rise in their retreat from Egypt. One of the most beloved Eastern European foods is matza ball soup, a rich broth with dumplings, made from matza meal. Different Jewish ethnic groups have different food traditions; Syrian Jews eat differently than Eastern European Jews or Moroccan Jews or Indian, Chinese or African Jews.
  • During the eight days of Passover only unleavened bread (matza) is eaten and foods containing yeast or leavening at all are strictly avoided.
  • According to tradition, four cups of wines are consumed at the festive meal. Those who cannot have so much wine can have grape juice instead. During World War I, in Vilna, Poland, when it was very difficult to find kosher wine, the rabbinical authorities allowed sweet tea in the Seder, instead of the traditional four cups of wine.
  • Although “The Last Supper” depicts Jesus celebrating Passover, the seder meal that is celebrated today was developed centuries after his death, so he did not observe Passover the way it is observed today. Many Christian groups and churches hold Passover seders, but they are not an accurate observance. Much of the thousands of years of Jewish liturgy and traditional prayers and readings and songs have been altered to give the observance a Christian interpretation.
  • Many centuries ago, Jewish people who lived near the Sahara Desert used to abandon their fortified villages on the Passover day and march into the desert, in memory of the first Passover. Many Jewish people today do the same today—camping and celebrating in Utah is especially popular.

Make sameach! A joyful holiday!

Rabbi Robbi Sherwin has been the Wood River Jewish Community’s rabbi for four years and is an award-winning touring Jewish rock artist and sought-after scholar-in-residence around the world.


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