Aunt Louise and Uncle Bob – Passover


Dear Aunt Louise and Uncle Bob:  Hi!  It’s me again, the student who is always asking questions about holidays. So my question today is about Passover, which I know is a Jewish holiday.  I would also like to know about Easter, which seems to happen at the same time, with unusually colored animals and seems to be Christian.  Can you share some information with me?


Aunt Louise:  Bob and I are happy and flattered that you find it easy to come to us with your questions, and you’re so engaged here in the US during your stay as an international student.  Not all education comes from the classroom or a textbook-and you seem to be noticing culture around you! I think we should break this into two subjects, as Passover and Easter are two distinct events, occurring at the same time.  Bob, what do you know about Passover?


Uncle Bob: Passover is a seven-day Jewish holiday and the most-celebrated one of the year.  It is in some ways a “multi-purpose” holiday.  First it is a celebration of spring and birth (as do many other religions and belief systems); but it is also a celebration of the journey of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt to freedom.  And it is also about taking responsibility for oneself, one’s community, and the world.


The Torah (think of it as the official “book” of Judaism) tells Jews they are to observe Passover for seven days, with the first night including a ritual dinner called a “seder”.  If you are invited to a seder, go! – the experience is interesting and because children are always included, there will be much explanation of what is going on.  You will find this quite interesting, you will be warmly welcomed, and the food is good.  Our niece and her family have been to several seders, and enjoyed them!


Aunt Louise:  Nowadays there are community seders, not just ones held in the homes of Jewish families.  Do an online search of “community seders in atlanta 2018” (or other city) and you will find opportunities to share in this Jewish ritual.  One unique item is the seder plate with symbolic decorations, which is at every table.  The plate may be an ornate family heirloom or a paper plate decorated by the children.  You will find the shankbone, karpas, chazeret, charoset, maror, and egg on the plate.


  • Roasted lamb shankbone: One of the most striking symbols of Passover is the roasted lamb shankbone (called zeroah), which commemorates the paschal (lamb) sacrifice made the night the ancient Hebrews fled Egypt. Some people say it symbolizes the outstretched arm of God (the Hebrew word zeroah can mean “arm”). (Back in the 11th century Jewish authority said you could use a beet instead – which is often what vegetarians do.)
  • Roasted egg: The roasted egg (baytsah) is a symbol in many different cultures, maybe even yours, often signifying springtime and renewal. One interpretation is that it represents one of the sacrificial offerings which was performed in the days of the Second Temple. Another popular interpretation is that the egg is like the Jewish people: the hotter you make it for them, the tougher they get! This egg isn’t even eaten during the meal; the shell just needs to look really roasted.
  • Maror (“bitter herb”): Any bitter herb will work, though horseradish is the most common. Bitter herbs bring tears to the eyes and recall the bitterness of slavery. The seder refers to the slavery in Egypt, but you are expected to look at your own “bitter enslavements” such as addiction or a bad habit.
  • Charoset: There’s nothing further from maror than charoset (“kha-ROH-set”), a sweet salad of apples, nuts, wine, and cinnamon that represents the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves to make bricks.
  • Karpas: Karpas is a green vegetable, usually parsley (though any spring green will do). While karpas may symbolize the freshness of spring, others say people eat it to make them feel like nobility or aristocracy. Because the seder ritual is to be personal, you might find that some families use boiled potatoes for karpas, continuing a tradition from Eastern Europe where it was difficult to obtain fresh green vegetables.
  • Chazeret: The chazeret (“khah-ZER-et”) is a second bitter herb, most often romaine lettuce, but people also use the leafy greens of a horseradish or carrot plant. The symbolism is the same as that of maror.
  • Salt water: Salt water symbolizes the tears and sweat of enslavement, yet it’s also a symbol for purity, springtime, and the sea, the mother of all life. Often a single bowl of salt water sits on the table into which each person dips their karpas during the seder. Then, it’s traditional to begin the actual seder meal with each person eating a hardboiled egg (not the roasted egg!) dipped in the bowl of salt water.
  • Matzah: Perhaps the most important symbol on the seder table is a plate that has a stack of three pieces of matzah (unleavened bread) on it. The matzot (that’s plural for matzah) are typically covered with a cloth. People have come up with numerous interpretations for the three matzot. Some say they represent the Kohen class (the Jewish priests in ancient times), the Levis (who supported the priests), and the Israelites (the rest of the Jews). What symbolism you attribute to this trinity isn’t all that important, as long as you’re thinking about it.
  • Wine cups and wine (or grape juice): Everyone at the seder has a (usually very small) cup or glass from which they drink four cups of wine. Traditionally, the four cups represent the four biblical promises of redemption: “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you from their slavery, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments. And I will take you to me for a people . . .” Others say the four cups represent the four letters in the unspeakable Name of God.


Uncle Bob: How interesting this is, Louise.  Now I am thinking we should find a seder to experience this Spring…the official day is March 30, but there are seders that are held throughout the seven day celebration.  Let’s do that!


Aunt Louise:  I think we should, Bob.  We should take a lesson from our inquisitive student who asking about and learning about new things….





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