Prepping for Passover: The history of the holiday and how you can celebrate in Nevada City
March 29, 2018
Tonight, millions of families around the world, including in Nevada County, will be celebrating the ancient Jewish holiday of Passover.
Passover celebrates the liberation of the Jewish nation from enslavement in ancient Egypt in 13th century B.C.E. As the Biblical story goes, Moses demanded the Egyptian Pharaoh free the Jewish nation. When he refused, God sent 10 plagues to Egypt.
To protect their households from the last plague, the death of every firstborn child, the Jews marked their doorposts with lamb's blood, so that the Angel of Death would "pass over" their the homes. After the last plague, Pharaoh released them.
When Moses and his people reached the Red Sea, God parted it, allowing them to cross. When Pharaoh's army pursued them, the water rushed back and drowned the soldiers, sparing the Jewish nation, who all made it to the other side.
This year, Passover starts today and ends on the evening of April 7.
Passover begins with a feast called Seder on the first night — a 15-step meal that includes reading, drinking wine, singing, telling stories and eating traditional foods. One such food is matzah, an unleavened bread made from flour and water.
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During Passover, the consumption of leavened products, or foods that have been allowed to ferment and rise, is forbidden. These foods can include bread, cereal or alcoholic beverages.
The rising of the dough symbolizes haughtiness and thinking highly of oneself, which is considered the root of much evil. Passover may be commemorating the liberation of the Jewish nation many years ago, but it also symbolizes the liberation of the individual. Refraining from eating leavened bread represents a desire to humble oneself.
"We celebrate trying to liberate ourselves from any limitations that hold us back," said Rabbi Nochum Yusewitz. "That's basically leaving our own personal Egypt."
Rabbi Nochum Yusewitz is a part of a national organization called Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish, Hasidic movement that has groups all over the world. This year, Chabad has been distributing over four million handmade matzah in addition to millions of Passover guides, which give insight and instructions on how to celebrate Passover. In Nevada County, Chabad has distributed hundreds of matzah.
Purchasing matzah for Passover can be very tricky, since it is easy to accidentally get the wrong kind. Since matzah is eaten outside the Passover celebration, it's made year round in different flavors. This matzah is not intended for Passover — it may even say on the label: "Not for Passover."
The other kind, which looks nearly identical, is specially made for Passover: the label should read "Kosher for Passover." It is important to read the label before tossing the matzah into the cart.
Another important part of Passover is togetherness. For this reason, Chabad is hosting a Passover Seder for the community at 7 tonight at the Nevada City Elks Lodge. The Seder will include Passover traditions and customs as well as a children's program so everyone can be involved.
"Celebrating it together as a community has so much more meaning," said Yusewitz. "Being able to practice our religion here in America proudly, being open and proud about it is really beautiful."
For more information about Chabad's Seder visit http://www.jewishgov.com/seder.
Mia Belluomini is a student at Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning and intern at The Union. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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