Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) is a major Spring festival lasting seven or eight days (depending on your community’s observance). It commemorates the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt over 3,000 years ago. Of all the Jewish holidays, Passover is one of the most widely observed, and calls for the most intricate home ritual, the seder. Passover has many unique symbols, songs, rituals, and stories, which vary from country to country and family to family.
The themes of Passover are: freedom, hope, and remembering.
In the first of the Ten Commandments, God says, “I am Adonai your God who brought you out of Egypt.” It is critical to note that God includes a reference to leaving Egypt (when God could have just said, “I am Adonai your God.”). The reason lies in the singular importance of God’s redemption of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This event is crucial to God’s relationship with the Jewish people from biblical times until today. Redemption from Egypt is the ultimate paradigm of freedom and hope in Judaism. God parts the Red Sea to save the Israelites from the Egyptian armies in one of the greatest symbols of hope in the darkest of hours.The leading of the people of Israel from slavery to freedom has become enshrined in Judaism’s commitment to freedom. We are reminded to be grateful for the freedom that we have and to truly seek freedom for others. And, we are commanded to remember the story of the exodus. Passover is the only holiday in the Bible where the Jewish community is explicitly told to pass the meaning of the holiday to our children. The Torah requires us to value memory and we are religiously obligated to keep this story alive.
Observances for liberal Jews during Passover include refraining from eating leavened bread (chameitz), eating matzah, and attending or hosting a seder (on the first or second night). The seder meal for Passover is the only one with a special sequence of readings and symbolic rituals, thus its name literally means “order.” A seder table is usually set with the following: a Haggadah for each participant (the book from which the story is read), festival candles, a Kiddush cup, Elijah’s cup, three whole matzot, a seder plate and symbolic foods from the seder plate for each participant. Although seders have evolved over time, the essential features were established by the end of the first century. In the Haggadah it states, “Let all who are in want share the hope of Passover.” So, in addition to inviting family and friends, it is a mitzvah to invite those who would not otherwise have a Seder to attend.
Slavery plays a central role in the Passover story. While we tend to think of slavery as a thing of the past, it persists all around us today. Visit truah.org and download their Haggadah themed on fighting modern slavery and use it at your Seder or incorporate readings into your own Haggadah. You can also visit slaveryfootprint.org, take a short online survey, and learn just how many slaves you have “working for you,” making the clothes you wear or harvesting the vegetables you eat. At this time when we celebrate the freedom of our people, let us not forget that there are still those who remain enslaved.
Visit Reformjudaism.org for more great Passover resources including recipes, family activities, and an interactive Seder plate.
Registration for Central's Congregation First Night Seder is now closed, and it will not be live streamed.
For a list of other seders in the New York area, please visit the visit the UJA Federation of NY.
7th Day Yizkor Service
Friday, April 10, 2015
8 a.m. | Rabbi Rubinstein Chapel (lay-led)
9:30 a.m. | Main Sanctuary