A well-celebrated day that commemorates our religious freedom.
Special to the Jewish News
W by We Celebrate: In the Torah,
God commands the Jewish
people to commemorate their
liberation from Egyptian slavery (Exodus
•The Name of the Holiday: Pesach in
Hebrew, Passover in English. In Hebrew,
Pesach means "skip over" or "pass over:'
and refers to the 10th and final plague that
God brought upon Egypt, where He killed
the first-born Egyptians but passed over
the Jewish households (Exodus 12:21-30).
Pesach is actually the rabbinic name of the
holiday, found throughout the Talmud.
In the Torah, only the first day of the
holiday is called Pesach (Exodus 34:25).
Otherwise, the Torah labels the holiday
Chag Ha Matzot or Festival of Matzahs
(Exodus 23:15, Leviticus 23:6, Deuteronomy
16:16). In the Passover liturgy as found in
the Jewish prayer book, the holiday is iden-
tified as z'man cheiruteinu,"Time of Our
•When We Celebrate: On the Jewish
calendar, 14-22 Nisan, which this year coin-
cides with sundown Saturday, April 19, to
sundown Sunday, April 27. The eight-day
holiday is observed throughout the world;
but in Israel, Pesach is seven days. Sunday
and Monday (April 20, 21) and Saturday and
Sunday (April 26, 27) are full holidays when
no work is permitted. The intervening days
are semi-holidays when work is allowed.
• What We Celebrate: Primarily, our
liberation from slavery to the Egyptians,
3,000 years ago. On a more profound level,
we remember the founding of the Jewish
nation and the beginning of our relation-
ship with God on a national level.
•How We Celebrate: Special prayers are
recited at all services for the entire holiday.
In observance of the Torah command-
ment,"You shall tell your child" (Exodus
13:8), we gather with family and friends
to hold a commemorative meal called a
seder ("order"). The seder menu includes
foods intended to arouse curiosity from the
children and stimulate discussion among
all gathered. The subjects can range from
Jewish identity to our relationship with
God, from the actual events of the Exodus
from Egypt to our life in Egypt prior to lib-
eration, miracles, the concept of a promised
land, and so on. Among the best-known
seder foods are matzah (unleavened bread),
a bitter vegetable, and four cups of wine.
\ i f 74 11
A woodcut from Sete Minhaqim. Bedikat Hametz (searching for leaven).
The story of the Exodus is told in the
Haggadah, a seemingly endless number
of which exist. It's worth a look at versions
from the turn of the century to the 1940s,
which are often filled with stirring and dra-
A number of good, or sometimes just
interesting, Haggadot and Passover books
are available. A few to consider:
The Family Passover Haggadah: The
Prince of Egypt (Circa Press, in conjunction
with the National Council of Synagogue
Youth), with illustrations from the movie,
produced by Steven Spielberg.
The Family Haggadah by Ellen Schecter,
illustrations by Neil Waldman (published
by Viking), for those in need of a very
politically correct Haggadah (God isn't He
or She but "a Being of limitless creativity
Why On This Night? A Passover Haggadah
for Family Celebration by Rahel Musleah,
illustrations by Louise August (Simon &
Schuster) is a lovely book with stained-
glass like pictures and excellent, useful
information on preparing for Passover and
bringing lively discussion to the table.
The Seder Activity Book by Judy Dick
(Union of American Hebrew Congregations
Press) is a fun book filled with activities for
the younger child.
The Tifereth Haggadah (Feldheim
Publishers) contains traditional text with
outstanding photographs, evoking a time
A Children's Haggadah by Howard Bogot
and Robert Orkand, with illustrations by
Devis Grebu (CCAR Press) guides readers
on topics such as social action.
My Very Own Haggadah by Judyth
Robbins Saypo and Madeline Wilder, with
illustrations by Chaya Burstein (Kar-Ben
Copies) provides children with a chance
to color pictures that tell the Pesach story.
There are song lyrics, too, like the perennial
favorite, "One morning when Pharoah woke
in his bed, there were frogs in his bed and
frogs on his head!'
The Passover Journey by Barbara
Diamond Goldin, with illustrations by Neil
Waldman (Viking Press). Waldman's art
work makes for one of the most beauti-
ful Haggadot you'll find. While the text is
brief (and in no way comprises the entire
Haggadah), a nice aspect of this book is
that it includes information you might
not see elsewhere, such as customs from
Baghdad and the story of the Warsaw
Ghetto during Pesach.
•Rules and Regulations: Pesach is
replete with rules, most of which are con-
cerned with what we eat. On Pesach, we
refrain from consuming any foods that
are leavened or contain leavening (such as
yeast). This includes bread and other items
made from dough or batter, most foods and
beverages made from grain, and anything
edible that even might contain any amount
of anything leavened.
All food for Pesach is certified as kosher
for Passover (kosher l'Pesach) or is beyond
suspicion of containing any leaven. Instead
of bread, we eat matzah, either alone or
prepared with other ingredients to make a
variety of dishes.
Pesach includes an ancillary observance,
called the Counting of the Omer.
• What It Is: A daily count of the 49
days and seven weeks between Pesach and
•Why We Observe: A divine command-
ment found in the Torah (Leviticus 23:15-16).
•How and When We Observe: We begin
the count on the second night of Pesach.
Thereafter, ideally, we count as part of the
daily evening service. The count itself is
preceded by a blessing. We then announce
the relevant day and week of the Omer. The
count should be recited while standing.
•The Omer and Mourning: The first
part of the Omer period is characterized
as semi-mournful. We do not get haircuts,
have or attend marriages, or play musi-
cal instruments. As stated in the Talmud,
during this period a plague decimated the
disciples of Rabbi Akiva because they did
not treat each other with respect.
Later in history, the Omer also became
a period of mourning, for it was during
that time of the year in 1096 and 1146 that
Jews in the Rhineland were killed by the
Crusaders. Moreover, the Chmielnicki mas-
sacres in the Ukraine and Poland (1648-49)
took place during this period.
•Lag b'Omer: This is the 33rd day of the
Omer (lag is the acronym formed from the
Hebrew letters, lamed and gimet which sig-
nify 33) on which mourning is suspended.
It is usually a day of joy and celebration.
Hair may be cut and weddings may be held.
Among those Jews who do not cut their sons'
hair until the boys reach the age of 3, Lag
b'Omer is the day chosen for the first haircut.
A long-standing tradition is to light
bonfires and for children to play with bows
and arrows on Lag b'Omer. For unknown
reasons, Lag b'Omer is associated with Bar
Kochba, the Jewish leader of a revolt against
the Roman occupation during the time of
Rabbi Akiva. This year, Lag b'Omer occurs
on Friday, May 23. ❑
April 17 • 2008