Saturday March 23, 2013

This year the Jewish festival of Passover begins the evening of Monday, March 25. The holiday, known in Hebrew as Pesach, is the "festival of freedom," commemorating the Exodus from Egypt. Passover is regarded as the "birth" of the Jewish nation, and its lessons of freedom and responsibility continue to form the basis of Jewish identity and its ways of life. The underlying message of the holiday is that greater freedom necessarily entails greater responsibility. While the Jewish people use this time to celebrate the freedom we now enjoy, we observe Passover most faithfully when we practice the obligation that comes with freedom: to work so that all people may be free.

The name of the festival is from the biblical book of Exodus which tells us that, during the final plague (the slaying of the first born,) God "passed over" the Jewish homes. Exodus goes on to tell us that this event is to be observed each year, for all future generations.

To this day, many Jews observe Passover for seven days. In traditional communities outside of the land of Israel, many celebrate an extra day. In all Jewish communities, the holiday is celebrated with an elaborate meal known as a "seder." The word "seder" means order, emphasizing the prescribed order of the symbolic re-telling of the Passover story. It is done in such a way as to help participants understand and, if possible, re-live the experience of going forth from slavery to freedom.

As recorded in the haggadah, the booklet of readings and prayers used during the meal, we tell of the Exodus and recount the Ten Plagues. We eat symbols of slavery and freedom, and the festive meal includes many delicious foods that people look forward to all year. The meal concludes with prayers of praise and thanksgiving. And, at the very end of the seder we recite, "Next year (may there be peace) in Jerusalem!"

The seder is a meaningful occasion for us to reconnect with family and friends and with the inquisitiveness of youth. Additionally, the most significant observance of Passover involves abstinence from leavened products and other foods whose ingredients ferment when coming in contact with water.

The grain product we eat instead is "matzah," unleavened bread made simply from flour and water and cooked very quickly. This practice symbolizes the fact that the Israelites leaving Egypt were in a hurry and did not have time to let their bread rise. It is also symbolizes our intention to remove the "puffiness" of pride and arrogance from our souls.

Brattleboro Area Jewish Community will try to connect people who are hosting seders with people who are looking for a seder to attend. This is a time to forget about shyness when looking for a seder to go to or looking for people to join at your seder. It’s a mitzvah to welcome the stranger at Pesach, or to invite someone you know who might be alone or might not have a family seder to go to. If you are hosting a seder and have room at your table for guests, or if you would like to attend a seder at the home of a member of our community, please contact BAJC so it can arrange a "seder match" for you. You can contact BAJC by email, info@bajc.org, phone 802-275-8033, or fill out the form at www.bajcvermont.org. Chag Sameach, happy holiday.