Passover dinner set for tonight
Jewish people in Nevada County and elsewhere on Monday began celebrating Passover, the week-long holiday that began at sundown.
The Congregation B’Nai Harim at the Nevada County Jewish Community Center in Grass Valley is hosting a Passover dinner today at 5:30 p.m.
Passover commemorates the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in Egypt. Jews celebrate it with a special family dinner honoring the last meal the Israelite slaves ate before fleeing Egypt, according to Rabbi Michael Oblath at the Jewish Community Center.
“It’s like role playing,” said 84-year-old Grass Valley resident George Feineman. “We put ourselves in the shoes of the Jews who fled Egypt. We imagine we are going through the same process.”
In Jewish families such as Feineman’s, Passover is preceded by elaborate preparations and meticulous cooking of traditional cuisine.
“Usually you start ahead,” said Estelle, 80, George Feineman’s wife. “You start with cleaning the kitchen. You have to get rid of all the leavening.”
Her husband added, “We have to make sure we remove certain kinds of food we eat during the year that we can’t eat during Passover. The removal means you can throw the forbidden food out or give it to hungry people who are not Jewish.”
Passover is a food-oriented holiday, Oblath said.
“Because the Bible says the (Israelite) slaves didn’t have time for their bread to rise as they were in a hurry to flee from Egypt, the bread used during Passover is unleavened, and it’s called ‘matzah,'” Oblath said. “The tradition is to eat that bread for seven days.”
Jewish people also eat bitter herbs like horseradish during the Passover meal to remember the bitterness of slavery, Oblath said. A mixture of apple, honey, walnut and wine – a symbol of the mortar the Israelite slaves used to make bricks in Egypt – is also served at the dinner.
During the meal, the story of the Exodus is read from a special text called the Haggadah, Oblath said. Although traditionally Passover is a seven-day festival, the book-reading and the Passover meal take place on the first night.
George once did the reading during Passover dinner when his children were growing up and lived with him. It’s important to help the younger generation understand Judaism, George said.
George and Estelle will attend the dinner at the Nevada County Jewish Community Center today. Their children and grandchildren live in other parts of the country.
The local Jewish congregation consists of about 100 families, Oblath said. They mostly tend toward a liberal interpretation of Judaism.
“Jews can be divided from very conservative to very liberal,” Oblath said. “Roughly around 30 to 40 percent of American Jews celebrate Passover traditionally.”
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Nuances of the festival
The term “Passover” comes from the Hebrew Word “Pesach,” which means “to go over,” said Rabbi Michael Oblath at the Jewish Community Center. It refers to the Biblical incident when the Angel of Death claimed the firstborn of the Egyptians, passing over the Jewish households. This was one of several plagues God sent to the Egyptians to compel them to release the Israelites.
But the festival of Passover has other nuances, as well, Oblath added.
“It is also a spring festival,” he said. “It’s one of the three harvest festivals and a time when Jews would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. That’s why Jesus was in Jerusalem (during Passover when he was arrested).
“This is really the national origin story of the ancient Israelites. It’s a time when we teach our future generations that freedom is an absolute human right, and slavery is the most horrible way to treat a human being.”
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