Celebrating the Seder
The Jewish faith is rich with tradition and beautiful rituals. Passover, one of the most important Jewish holidays, commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. This year’s Passover begins the evening of April 8 and ends on April 16.
Passover is a holiday filled with symbolism, and its rituals reflect this. The first two nights of Passover include a traditional meal called a Seder. A special Seder plate serves as centerpiece for the Seder table and typically includes symbolic foods arranged on the plate. Many families use a Seder plate that’s been passed down through the years.
During the Seder, the story of Passover is read from a special book called a Haggadah. Over the course of the evening, the symbolism of each food is explained. Traditional songs that underscore the meaning and importance of Passover are often sung by those around the table.
Each Passover food has a specific meaning related to the journey of the Jewish people’s escape from slavery. Hearing the story year after year and tasting the foods allow participants to see, smell, feel and taste liberation as the story of Exodus is told. The foods include:
Karpas—A green vegetable, most often parsley, represents the initial flourishing of the Israelites during their first years in Egypt. Also included is a bowl of saltwater, which the parsley is dipped into as a reminder of the tears shed during Egyptian slavery.
Charoset is traditionally a ground mixture of apple, nuts and cinnamon bound together with wine or honey. It symbolizes the mortar used by Hebrew slaves to build Egyptian structures. Most families have their own recipes, often tweaked over the years.
Maror is a bitter herb (usually horseradish) representing the bitterness of slavery. A second bitter herb, chazeret, is sometimes included as well. Romaine lettuce leaves are usually used for this course.
The shank bone, or zeroa, symbolizes the lamb offered as the Passover sacrifice in Biblical times. Some communities use a chicken neck instead. (Vegetarian households may use beets). This shank bone serves as a visual reminder of the sacrifice offered by the Israelites before fleeing Egypt.
Beitzah, a hard-boiled egg, also symbolizes sacrifices offered. Its round shape represents spring and the renewal of life.
Though not on the Seder plate itself, three pieces of matzo are wrapped in or covered by a cloth on the Seder table. During Passover, Jews are forbidden to eat leavened foods, and instead eat matzo, an unleavened flatbread. Matzo symbolizes the unleavened bread eaten during the flight from Egypt—the Israelites had to flee so quickly there wasn’t enough time for their bread to rise! The table is also set with a special goblet to be filled with wine for the prophet Elijah.
Delicious meals are often prepared for the Seder. Some traditional dishes include brisket, roasted chicken, gefilte fish and potato kugel. Desserts may include flourless chocolate cake or macaroons made with coconut. There are hundreds of ways to make dessert using matzo!
Children are encouraged to participate in the Seder. At the start of the Seder, the youngest child recites or sings the “Four Questions” about what makes the night different from all other nights. Another tradition is to have the children search for a hidden piece of matzo called afikomen. Whoever finds it wins a prize.
If you celebrate Passover with a Seder, embrace the beautiful rituals of food, family, friends and reflection—whether carrying on family traditions or creating new ones of your own. “Chag Pesach kasher vesame’ach!” (Kosher and happy Passover!)