Learn about the story of Passover, how we celebrate, and some fun and delicious SJCC events for the holiday.
What is Passover?
The eight-day festival of Passover is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan; this year: March 27 – April 4, 2021. Passover commemorates the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in ancient Egypt. On Passover, we avoid eating leavened foods and celebrate with a Seder, a traditional meal that includes the retelling of the Exodus. In Hebrew, it is known as Pesach (which means “to pass over”), because God passed over the Jewish homes when killing the Egyptian firstborn children during the last plague. While Passover is a holiday of celebration for the Israelites’ freedom, we also mourn the Egyptians that lost their lives. During Passover, we recognize that the Israelites freedom does not come free.
How Do We Celebrate?
No Leavening: On Passover, we refrain from eating hametz. Loosely defined as “leavened products,” hametz comes from five grains: wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt. This includes cereal, cookies, pizza, pasta, and especially bread, except in its unleavened form, matzah. In some traditions, it is also custom to refrain from eating beans, rice, and corn.
Spring Cleaning: To ensure that no hametz will be consumed during Passover people may change over all of their dishes, pots, pans, and utensils. People also clean their house thoroughly and some participate in a bedikat hametz (checking of hametz) hunt to search the house carefully and get rid of all not-kosher-for-Passover items. It is a fun tradition to place ten pieces of bread throughout the house to be “found” during the search.
The Seder: The Seder is a ritual feast that marks the beginning of Passover. Passover lasts for 7 days in Israel and 8 days outside of Israel (the diaspora). Therefore, there is only one seder in Israel whereas everywhere else people celebrate with two. In Hebrew, “seder” means “order”. We read through the Haggadah, which takes us through the Seder in the proper order.
Seder customs include re-telling and discussing the story of the Exodus from Egypt, drinking four cups of wine, eating matzah, partaking of symbolic foods placed on the Passover Seder plate, and reclining in celebration of freedom.
The Story of Passover
An increasing number of Israelites live in Egypt, and Pharoah has grown fearful of what might happen if they decide to rise up against the Egyptians. He decides to enslave the Israelites and orders all newborn males to be killed.
To save baby Moses from this grisly fate, his mother and sister put him in a basket and set it afloat on the river, hoping whoever finds the baby will adopt him as their own. Eventually, the basket is discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter. She saves Moses and raises him as her own so that a Hebrew child is raised as a prince of Egypt.
One day, Moses sees an Egyptian guard beating an Israelite slave. Moses kills the guard and, fearing for his life, flees into the desert. He eventually marries and becomes a shepherd. While out tending the sheep, Moses sees a burning bush “that was not consumed.” The voice of God calls out to Moses and tells him that he has been chosen to free the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Though he is hesitant to accept God’s will, Moses eventually returns to Egypt and demands that Pharaoh releases the Israelites from bondage. Pharaoh refuses and as a result, God sends ten plagues upon Egypt — each one more horrific than the last.
The tenth plague — the death of the firstborn — is where Passover derives its name. As the Angel of Death visited Egypt, it “passed over” Hebrew homes, which had been marked with lamb’s blood on the doorposts.
After the tenth plague, Pharaoh relents and releases the Israelites from slavery. They quickly bake their bread, not even pausing for the dough to rise, which is why Jews eat matzah (unleavened bread) during Passover. Upon reaching the Red Sea, a miracle occurs and the sea splits open so that the Israelites can continue on their journey while leaving the Egyptians behind. Finally, after 200 years of slavery, the Jewish people were free.
When they crossed the Red Sea, the Israelites were exhausted and downhearted about their future. Miriam, Moses’s older sister and leader of the women, reinvigorated the group by leading them in song and dance. Her leadership reminded the Israelites how far they’d truly come and sustained their energy for the journey ahead.
- Virtual SJCC Book Fest: Jennifer Steinhauer
- Passover Tot Shabbat on March 26th and April 2nd
- Passover Virtual Cooking Demonstration with Michael Solomonov
- Trophy Cupcakes Passover Pop-Up
Resources/Virtual ways to Celebrate
- Honoring Miriam: Watch a replay of the J’s White House Women Book Fest event: Click here
- My Jewish Learning: Steps of the Seder
- PJ Library’s Passover Resources
- How to Make a Virtual Seder Special