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Passover is the most ancient and most important Jewish festival. More than three thousand years old, it occurs at approximately the same time of year as Christians celebrate Easter. During the next month (April 19 is the date of Passover this year),
Jewish people will prepare to celebrate this ritual. Passover commemorates the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt and celebrates their return to their own land of Israel. The Seder is the special feast held to remember this event.
The Passover is always held on the 15 th day of Nissan, i.e. the first month in the Hebrew calendar. The Seder takes place on the first and second nights of the Passover. During the Seder special foods are eaten and special prayers are said in a certain order.
Called in the Bible, the Chag Matzot, i.e. the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, and Chag-Pesach, which means the offering of lamb or calf, symbolic foods are important on the Seder plate. There are also many forbidden foods at this time. These include most grains and legumes because they can leaven naturally when they come into contact with liquid. When the Jews fled Egypt they had no time to see that their bread rose so Jews now eat unleavened bread during the ritual.
Foods which are allowed instead include matzo and potatoes. Matzo is a form of flatbread made with plain white flour and water. Another reason to eat matzo is that it is considered ‘poor man’s bread’ so it helps people to remember to be humble and think of their ancestors held in slavery. Many foods are made from matzo, including cakes and cookies.
Potatoes are very important because they contain carbohydrates so they’re a good substitute for bread.
Bitter herbs remind Jews of the bitterness of the slavery suffered in Egypt. Horseradish, romaine lettuce and endives are popular choices.
Charoses reminds Jews of building their master’s houses with mortar. They are a delicious mixture of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon.
The Beltzah or roasted egg commemorates the festival sacrifice offered in the Temple at Jerusalem and roasted and eaten on Seder night. It also represents mourning for the destruction of the Temple and new life.
Other foods include karpas, a vegetable that is usually parsley or celery; zeroah, a bone of roasted lamb representing the paschal offering; and wine. Four glasses of wine represent the four expressions of redemption in Exodus.
The Seder foods are placed in a special order on the plate and eaten in a certain order as well.
During the Seder special prayers, stories, and songs take place. According to Global Gourmet.com: “The Seder is divided into three parts: Retelling the story of the Exodus, and partaking of the ceremonial foods; eating the Seder festive meal; and finally, reciting prayers of thankfulness, welcoming Elijah the prophet, and singing Passover songs.” The order is laid down in the Haggadah which explains the order, symbols, songs and liturgy of the Seder. Most Jews use this book to prepare the celebrations.
Two thirds of American Jews still go to the Seder, which they regard as a very important and very special religious celebration.