Passover: A Time to Remember God’s Deliverance

SEDER PLATES AND HAGGADAHS: Sixth grade students of the Hebrew School in Cantor Kari Siegel-Eglashs’ room, from left, Carly Godwin, Jacob Glime, Mindy Coretz, Rachel Newman and Elli Rao display Seder plates and Haggadahs.

MARIA JONES for GTR Newspapers

Passover or Pesach (PAY-sahch) is the most commonly observed Jewish Holiday according to Rabbi Charles Philip Sherman of Temple Israel. Pesach begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, which is April 23 this year.

What is Passover and why is it celebrated? The first Passover was instituted by God to free His people from slavery to the Egyptians. In Exodus 12:14, God says, “This (Passover) will be a memorial day for you; you will celebrate it as a festival to God down through the generations, a fixed festival celebration to be observed always.” Jews all over the world celebrate Passover to commemorate their redemption from slavery, but it is also considered to be the birth of the Jewish Nation.

In the book of Exodus, Chapters 12-15, one can find the story of the flight of the Hebrew children from Egypt. The Haggadah, the book used during the Seder, retells the story with commentary and everyone participates. “We celebrate a seven-day Passover,” says Rabbi Sherman, “The first day and last day are full holidays and no work is permitted.”

The Seder celebrated on the first two nights of Passover may be held in the home or with the congregation. Temple Israel has a congregational Seder the second night. According to Rabbi Sherman, “Singles and the elderly many times are alone, so the congregational Seder provides them with a family with which to celebrate.” Rabbi Sherman, Passover is the most observed celebration and is the richest in symbolism; it has good food, and the theme still moves the Jewish people today. The word Seder means, “order.” The story must be told in a precise manner with the symbols and ritual.

“Preparing for the Seder is a lot of work,” says Rabbi Sherman. “It can take several weeks because every bit of leaven, or Chemetz, must be removed from the home.” Chametz includes anything made from wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt. Some Orthodox Jews also avoid rice, corn, peanuts and legumes, which are known as “kitniyot.” Chametz is not eaten during Pesach and may not even be fed to animals or pets. The house must be thoroughly cleaned from any Chametz, and the morning before the Seder, a formal search of the house for Chametz is made and any that is found is burned.

The Seder table is set with candles, cups for wine, including one cup of wine for Elijah to remind us of redemption for all people. Three Matzahs are placed in a stack. Near the beginning of the Seder, the middle Matzah is taken out of the stack and broken. Half is replaced and the other half, called the afikomen, is hidden to be redeemed later. The last item on the table is the Seder plate, containing a roasted shank bone for the ancient Passover sacrifice; parsley or greens for growth, hope and renewal; Maror, horseradish root, for the bitterness of slavery; Haroset, a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine, for the mortar from which bricks were made; a roasted egg, for new life; and salt water, a reminder of tears shed during slavery.

Rabbi Sherman says “The salt water reminds us that there are people enslaved today to poverty, illness, addictions, abusive relationships and many other things, so the tears have meaning for today as well. We can see ourselves as being enslaved, but now free.” Dishes used for the Seder are “Kashered” or made fit for Passover. Many homes have dishes that are used only for Passover.

According to Rabbi Sherman, one of the things that make Seders special is that children are involved, even small children. Children are given prizes related to the hiding and finding of the afikomen. They also have special readings during the Seder.

Churches of other faiths have become interested in Passover, and Rabbi Sherman says he has been to churches and explained and demonstrated Seders for other faiths.

Rabbi Sherman says the Seder is ever changing and being brought up to date. Although the theme and ritual remain, current issues are sometimes added. One of the issues regards women who are now taking more of a part in the faith. It was once asked if a woman would ever be a rabbi, and the answer was when there is an orange on the Seder plate. You might find an orange peel on the Seder plate in some homes and congregations because women are now allowed to be rabbis.

Temple Israel recently celebrated its 90th anniversary. Founded in 1914, it is the oldest Jewish congregation in Tulsa. Although the building is very modern in appearance, this month it was 50 years old. According to Rabbi Sherman, $3 million was spent to refurbish the building and bring it up to date. Renovations were made to accommodate changes in the needs of the congregation within the same square footage. One change turned an adult lounge into a youth center. A preschool takes children from 6 weeks to 4 years old daily and on Sunday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to noon, elementary aged students come to school for religious education. Wednesday evenings junior and senior highaged students meet from 7:15 p.m.–9 p.m. for religious education and socialization. “Jewish students from 28 different schools meet with other Jewish students to learn more of their faith,” Rabbi Sherman says. “Many of these children are the only Jewish student in their class and in some cases, the only Jewish student in the school. In addition to the academics they receive here, this is the only time they have to socialize with kids of their own faith.”

Updated 03-30-2005

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