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Holiday Celebrations

Passover Around the World: Preserving Tradition; Embracing Innovation
By Hadassah International

On every continent, Jews sit down to a seder table and celebrate the holiday of Passover. Some, like here in the United States, celebrate under a shelter of full freedom. Others are not so fortunate. Yet, we all remember the story of our people’s Exodus from the land of Egypt and pause to be grateful. In modern times, it has become commonplace to add prayers to the Haggadah and tailor this ancient text to resonate more powerfully for those gathered around our tables.

For example, since the Haggadah does not mention women or their role in the Exodus, many people add readings that tell the story of the midwives, Shifra and Puah, who— by disobeying Pharoah’s command to drown all the male newborns— saved many Jewish infants. Other readings praise Miriam, Moses’ sister, who suggested to the Pharoah’s daughter that Yocheved—Moses’ real mother—was a great person to nurse the baby. 

The Passover (Pesah) holiday is also called the Festival of Spring (Hag Ha-Aviv). In ancient times, before the Exodus, people performed agricultural rites in celebration of the Earth’s liberation from winter. In the early years of Israel’s existence, Kibbutzniks brought back some of the ancient rites. During Passover, they would have a procession to the fields, with their children riding on tractors filled with flowers. At the seder table, we perform the Karpas ceremony as a reminder that it is Spring, the season of hope. We dip a green vegetable in salt water, however, commemorating at the same time the tears that were shed in Egypt when our people were slaves. In the midst of tears, our tradition teaches, we still must hope. 

In ancient times, the Talmud tells us candy and nuts were given to children at the beginning of the seder to encourage them to stay alert. Candies were also used to reward the children for asking questions.

Some Persian and Afghani Jews have the custom at the seder of lightly whipping each other with leeks and green onion stalks, simulating the beatings that the Jews suffered in Egypt. The Jews of Gibraltar mix a few particles from real bricks into their haroset, commemorating the mortar the Jews were forced to use while slaves in Egypt.

The Jews of Morocco go to the seashore and dip their bare feet into the water to symbolize the Israelites crossing the Red Sea during the Exodus.

The Jews from the Polish town of Kalwaria re-enact the crossing of the Red Sea on the seventh day of Passover by pouring water on their floor and reciting the names of the towns they would have to go through to complete their crossing. 

From our Hadassah family to yours—hag sameah! For more information on Pesah, visit www.myjewishlearning.com 

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