Jewish holiday begins

STEUBENVILLE – Passover, the Jewish holiday commemorating the Jewish exodus from bondage in Egypt, began at sundown Monday and continues for the next eight days.

Although the day celebrates the liberation from slavery and oppression, the day originally was a time of harvest for the Jewish people. During ancient times a family would travel to Jerusalem to make a sacrifice, known as a Pesach. An animal would be slaughtered and a meal prepared.

The religious holiday evolved over the millennium to become a time of symbolism, prayer, song and celebration.

For Jewish people currently, Passover is a time to reflect, remember and celebrate their release from the misery and horrors of the bondage imposed by an ancient pharaoh more than 3,500 years ago.

Fearful the Hebrews might join his enemies, the pharaoh enslaved the Hebrews. Moses, leader of the Hebrews, sent plagues to convince the pharaoh to loosen his grip.

The pharaoh let the Hebrews leave after the ninth such plague, but then changed his mind. The last and most terrible plague included the death of all first-born sons in Egypt.

The Hebrews were told by Moses to brush the blood of animals on the doors and lintels, protecting them from the Angel of Death, which passed over Egypt during the last plague.

The pharaoh again let the Hebrews and Moses leave, only to change his mind again and send his armies after the Jews. Moses through God parted the waters of the Red Sea for the fleeing Hebrews, only to let the waters drown the chasing armies.

Jews celebrate Passover through Seder, or the Passover meal, which is Hebrew for the word “order.”

Prior to the meal, family members read the Passover Haggadah, or “Legend.” The youngest family member asks the question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

The question is answered by the history of the Jewish exodus, which includes the story of the Israelites in Egypt, their becoming slaves and ultimate rescue through the grace of God.

Four cups of wine and food eaten during the ceremony symbolize the food of the times, which also includes Matzah, known as “the bread of affliction.”

The bread, which is a reminder of the poverty Jews suffered under Egyptian rule, is segregated into three loaves, one of which is broken in two.

The broken loaf, which is known as Afikomen, Hebrew for “dessert,” traditionally is hidden by the adults of the family or stolen and held for ransom by the children. The meal isn’t complete until the missing bread is found.

Karpas is the green, leafy vegetable, such as parsley or lettuce, which represents a new birth and the return of spring. The Karpas is traditionally dipped in salt water, which represents the tears and sweat of the oppressed and their struggle to be free.

Bitter herbs such as horseradishes stand for the bitterness of being under bondage, while a roasted egg and shank bone represent life, nature’s cycles and the lambs slaughtered for the paschal sacrifice.