What Is Passover?

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Tonight, Jewish people around the world will begin their annual Passover celebrations. As is the case in many years, the eight days of Passover overlap with Christian celebrations of Good Friday and Easter, and like Easter, Passover is an occasion that calls for many food-based remembrances. Learn all about Passover, which is one of the most important Jewish holidays, below.

What does Passover celebrate?

Passover celebrates the liberation of the ancient Israelites from their slavery to Egyptian leaders. The holiday is commonly associated with the historic and religious tale of the 10 plagues, which God inflicted to emancipate the Israelities. The final of these plagues was the death of the firstborn son, though God spared all Jewish families from this suffering. Passover honors this mercy in name, as the Hebrew word for the holiday (pesach) translates to “to pass over,” just as God passed over the Israelites when carrying out the final plague.

When is Passover this year?

God enacted the final plague in 1313 BCE on the 15th of Nissan (a month in the Hebrew calendar), so Passover starts annually on 15 Nissan. Since the Hebrew calendar aligns differently with the Gregorian calendar every year, Passover this year begins April 8th. The holiday then ends on 22 Nissan, which is April 16th on the 2020 Gregorian calendar. Last year, Passover ran from April 19-27.

What do people eat on Passover?

The food portion of Passover is often quite intricate. A typical seder plate comprises three matzoh (square pieces of unleavened bread) under a cloth. Atop this cloth is a shank bone, an egg, a bitter herb (often horseradish), an apple paste known as charoset, and parsley or another vegetable. Each of these foods symbolizes and commemorates a different aspect of the Israelites’ enslavement and subsequent emancipation. You can read more about each food’s meaning here.

What religious texts do people recite on Passover?

A classic Jewish text known as the Haggadah guides Passover proceedings. The Haggadah famously includes the question, “What makes this night different than all other nights?” This question, which is perhaps the phrase most associated with Passover, has four answers that are often recited or sung by the youngest seder attendee.

What else happens on Passover?

As the recitation of the four answers to “What makes this night different than all other nights?” suggests, Passover is among the kid-friendliest Jewish holidays. At Passover, children also get to experience the delights of the afikoman. This tradition involves breaking a piece of matzah in half during the Passover ceremony, then hiding it somewhere in the home, and having the children search high and low to find it. Whoever finds the afikoman gets a prize.

How are people celebrating Passover during COVID-19?

A crucial element of Passover is the gathering of groups to eat seder plates and celebrate the holiday together. Since the COVID-19 pandemic requires people to maintain at least six feet of social distance and only leave their homes for essential tasks, traditional Passover seders aren’t possible for many people this year. 

Instead, many Jews are opting for digital celebrations with friends and family. If you or anyone you know is disappointed that their seder has been called off, you can always suggest this option to them – and hopefully, celebrators can be together in person come this time next year.

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