What is Passover? Your four questions, answered

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On Friday, at sundown, Jews all over the world celebrated the start of Passover, which runs for the next seven days. It is one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar.

And while we may have missed your Friday night seder (our apologies), it’s still not too late to answer four, key questions about this most sacred of religious observances.

  1. What is Passover? According to ToriAvey.com, Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew commemorates the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.  The holiday originated in the Torah, where the word pesach refers to the ancient Passover sacrifice (known as the Paschal Lamb); it is also said to refer to the idea that God “passed over” (pasach) the houses of the Jews during the 10th plague on the Egyptians, the slaying of the first born. The holiday is ultimately a celebration of freedom, and the story of the exodus from Egypt is a powerful metaphor that is appreciated not only by Jews, but by people of other faiths as well.”
  2. How is Passover celebrated? Once, again, according to ToriAvey.com: “Passover is observed for seven days in Israel and eight days in the Diaspora. The main event of the Passover holiday is the seder (literally, “order”), a festive meal in which the haggadah (story of the exodus and related writings) is recited in a set order. During the entire duration of the holiday, it is forbidden to eat leavened food products (such as bread, pasta, etc.). The reason for this is that Jewish tradition states that in their haste to escape from Egypt the Jews did not have enough time to wait for bread to rise. Instead, they ate matzah, unleavened bread. Part of the Passover seder includes hiding the afikoman (half of a matzah that is kept between two other matzahs during the seder and later hidden). Children search for the afikoman and usually receive a prize for finding it.”
  3. What kind of food is eaten on Passover? According to ToriAvey.com: “Matzah is a central part of the seder and of Passover meals throughout the duration of the holiday. Symbolic foods eaten at the seder are: maror (bitter herbs, usually horseradish, a reminder of the bitterness of slavery), salt water (symbolizing the tears of the slaves), charoset (sweet paste made of fruit and nuts, symbolizing the mortar the slaves used to build the Egyptian pyramids), zeroah (shank bone, representing the Passover sacrifice), beitzah (hard-boiled egg, symbolic of life and birth associated with the spring season), and karpas (a leafy green vegetable, usually a piece of lettuce, symbolizing hope and redemption). It is required to drink four cups of wine throughout the seder.” Additionally, “Traditional Ashkenazi Passover dishes include gefilte fish, matzah ball soup, brisket, and kosher-for-Passover kugels, and tzimmis (sweet carrot and fruit dish), and macaroons and sponge cake (made from matzah meal) for dessert. A popular breakfast food during the holiday is matzah brie (matzah soaked in water, dipped in egg, and fried).”
  4. What is the traditional Passover greeting: A simple “Chag Sameach!” or “Happy Holiday,” will get you there.
An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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