Every year, Jews from around the world gather with their families to share the Seder meal and hear about how the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery during Passover.
Congregation Ohev Sholom Rabbi Shaul Rappeport recently spoke to Our Lady of Lourdes congregants to explain what the traditions of Passover mean and how some of them connect to Christianity.
Judaism does not have a history. Rather, its members have a collective memory and participate in a living memory, Ohev Sholom's rabbi said. That memory is an open book with a blank page for each generation to continue the next part.
Congregation Ohev Sholom Rabbi Shaul Rappeport displays items commonly found on the table at a Jewish Passover meal in the sanctuary at Ohev Sholom.
"We tell the story of the exodus on Passover," Rappeport said. "It deepens and enhances people's faith in God."
Some scholars argue that the Last Supper, Jesus' last meal with his apostles before his crucification, could have been a Passover meal, Rappeport said.
The meal is similar to Thanksgiving, where Jews can thank God they are blessed. It usually takes between 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
By resharing the history of Passover every year, it allows children to hear it and ask questions, but it also allows those who know the story to connect it to their everyday lives.
The holiday is a celebration of the freedom of slaves, but Rappeport said everyone wants freedom from some bondage they have. It could be impulses, such as addiction, or technology. A fine line exists from when a person is the master or a slave in a situation.
"Each person can tell where they need God," Rappeport said.
A business owner can be both a master and a slave. The business owner could want to go to the Passover Eve service at the Synagogue, but could be afraid to close a few hours early to attend it.
One of the traditions of Passover is to eat unleavened bread, known as matzah, during the Seder meal. The Egyptian pharaoh sent the slaves away in haste, so they did not have a chance to let their bread rise. Each year, all of the leavened bread is removed from the house to help participants remember what it was like for the Israelites.
"On a mystical level, leavened bread represents ego," Rappeport said.
Left alone, the bread, and the ego, rise. The matzah represents humility.
During the meal, everything is eaten while leaning to the left because in historic days, slaves sat straight and royalty leaned.
However, after drinking the four cups of wine, the leaning and eating becomes more difficult.
"Leaning to the left is a hassle," Rappeport joked with the group.
Wine is drunk because it is an important element in Judaism. Every Sabbath and weddings are consecrated through wine.
A cup of wine at the table, filled for Elijah, prophet of the redemption, is supposed to spark small children's interests. Family members try to empty the cup throughout the night without the children seeing so they can say that Elijah is drinking it.
The Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion, has a relation to Passover because Catholics and Protestants alike drink wine (or grape juice as a substitute) and eat the bread during it to remember the Last Supper.
Another part of the meal is horseradish, romaine lettuce or a combination of the two. Herbs represent the bitterness of slavery.
A vegetable, often a potato or parsley dipped in saltwater, also is eaten. Seder meals are supposed to be similar, so a potato is used because it is grown throughout different parts of the world during different seasons. Just because it is spring in North America, does not mean spring vegetables are available elsewhere.
Throughout Passover, families sing songs of praises and hymns, such as "One Little Goat" in Aramaic. The language is a large part of Jewish history. Jesus and his disciples probably spoke Aramic, Rappeport said. "One Little Goat" describes different animals eating the animals that ate the goat. Each animal represents different Jewish exiles. The goat represents the Jewish people.
Passover is one of the most spiritual experiences in the Jewish calendar and it is done at home, Rappeport said. It is an educational experience for children to learn that God, religion and spirituality are not just learned in pews.