The Jewish holiday of Passover is one filled with rich tradition. But, even more than on any other Jewish holiday, the biggest tradition (and commandment) of Passover is actually the story itself. Jews are commanded to tell the story of Passover in each generation as if it were we, ourselves, who were freed from slavery in Egypt.
Different from most Jewish holidays (in which the religious observance takes place mostly in the synagogue), on Passover the observance takes place at home with a festival meal and re-telling of the Passover story. Called the Seder, this festival meal and service is celebratory and educational, filled with delicious food, tradition and symbolism. The “instruction manual” for the Seder is a book called the Hagaddah (which actually means the telling.) On every Seder table, appear the symbols through which the story is told. And how do we tell the story as if we were actually participants in the Exodus from Egypt? By becoming participants in the story . . . by not just reading about the symbols–but by tasting, using, and experiencing the symbols. By questioning, debating, discussing . . . and singing!
Perhaps the best-recognized symbol of Passover is the Matzah–the unleavened bread. By eating it for seven days during Passover instead of regular bread, we actually become the Israelites in such a hurry to escape Egypt before Pharaoh changed his mind that they didn’t even take time to let their bread rise. As the central symbol of Passover, the Matzah has an honored place on the Seder table, usually placed in an exquisite Matzah Cover.
The other symbols of the Passover Seder also hold places of honor at the table, displayed beautifully on a traditional Seder Plate. This plate often has a section for each of the symbols and a label in Hebrew or in English (or both) to remind us what goes there: parsley, a lamb bone, a roasted egg, bitter herb, salt water, and charoset (a delicious mixture of apples, nuts, and wine).
And let’s not forget the wine! At the Seder it’s traditional to drink four cups. So, at the center of the table stands an ornate Kiddush Cup used especially for blessing the wine and consecrating the specialness of the day.
One of the most beautiful traditions of the Seder is that of welcoming all to join us: the old and young, the poor and wealthy, the Jew and non-Jew. So, it’s not uncommon for non-Jews to attend a Passover Seder from time to time. All are welcome to tell the story, to participate in the traditions, and to enjoy the sounds and tastes of this festive springtime holiday. Happy Passover! Chag sameyach!