Religions and Spirituality

West Orange Jewish Community Prepares for Start of Passover

Passover begins at sundown on April 14. Credits:

WEST ORANGE, NJ - Passover, or Pesach, is one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar beginning Monday, April 14, at sundown, and ending on Tuesday, April 22, at sundown.

Passover traditionally occurs on the fifteenth day of the Jewish calendar in the month of Nisan. It celebrates the impending freedom of the Israelites as they prepared to leave Egypt and begin their quest to settle in their own promised land. Held as slaves by the Egyptians for over 400 years, the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Torah, the sacred Hebrew book of the law containing Moses' five books, the Ten Commandments, and 613 mitzvot, or precepts and commandments of Jewish law) describes the story of Moses and his God-ordained efforts to free the Israelites from bondage.

A series of plagues brought upon Egypt by God did not convince Ramses, the Egyptian Pharaoh, to free the Israelites, until the final plague was decreed. The last plague: "all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sits upon his throne, even to the first-born of the maidservant who is behind the mill; and all the first-born of the cattle," was indeed the most horrifying to date. Despite Moses' pleas, Pharaoh did not heed his warnings.  

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However, God spoke to Moses and provided a way for the Israelites and all who believed to be exempt from the Angel of Death. The blood of an unblemished lamb was to be placed on the lintel (doorpost) of their homes, and when the Angel of Death saw it, he would "pass over" their home.  In addition, the Israelites were required to prepare a meal of roasted lamb with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs, and to eat them standing, "with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover."

In remembrance, the Jewish community now celebrates the Seder Supper to commemorate the Exodus of their ancestors from Egypt. The word "Seder" translates from the Hebrew "order" and the meal is served in a specific order with foods representing various components of the Israelites' journey and relationship with God. Most families have a "Seder Plate" which represents many parts of the meal: the lamb shankbone (Zeroah), karpas (vegetable) , chazeret (usually horseradish) , charoset (fruit, almond and wine paste), maror (bitter herbs) and roasted egg (the beitzah, which stands in place of a second offering). Not all communities use the chazeret.

For Jews that choose to follow the law strictly, prior to the preparation of the Seder meal, all 'chametz,' or leavened products, are purged from their homes. Chametz includes removal of all products containing wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt that has not been completely cooked within 24 minutes after coming into contact with water (many are accustomed limit this to 18 minutes). Orthodox Ashkenazic Jews (West Orange has a significant population) may also  avoid rice, corn, peanuts, and legumes (beans). Any items used to make bread would be avoided, though technically not 'chametz.'  They are called "kitniyot". Matzoh, unleavened bread made of flour and water and prepared quickly, is the only 'bread' eaten during Passover. Many Jewish families use dishes and plates especially set aside for the Passover meal.

The Seder meal is eaten the first night of Passover. Traditionally, the firstborn family members fast the day before Passover. No work is allowed on the first day and the last day of Passover. During the week, Jews may eat kosher approved foods.

The order of the Seder Supper is comprised of several components and are printed in a book called the Haggadah.  The first is the Kaddesh, meaning sanctification, and blessings are prayed. Each individual will drink a  five ounce glass of wine (or grape juice) reclining on their left side.  The second is Urechatz, or washing, in preparation for the third, eating of vegetables, or Karpas. Celery or parsley is usually used and dipped in charoset, a paste of apples, almonds, wine, and cinammon, to represent the mortar the Israelite used to build while in slavery.

The next step is yachatz, or 'breaking' of a matzoh, followed by the Maggid, the telling of the story of Exodus. Another cup of wine/juice is drunk afterward.  A rachtzah, "washing" in preparation of eating the matzoh, the Motzi, "blessing over the bread" is said, and a small amount is consumed.  The maror, or 'bitter herbs' are then consumed (usually romaine, chicory, endive or horseradish root) dipped in charoset,' symbolizing the bitterness of slavery. Immediately following is the korech, a sandwich made of maror, matzoh and charoset.

The Shulchan Orech, or dinner, is next. Many Ashkenazic Jews will also have Matzoh Ball soup prior to eating the dinner. Tzafun, the "last matzvoh" is eaten, and should be the last thing eaten until morning. 

The Barech, or "grace after meals" is said, followed by the third glass of wine/juice, followed by the Hallel, or "praises" and the final glass of wine/juice. Wine represents redemption. The Nirtzah closes the meal.

Contemporary or non-Orthodox Jewish families may decide to cook brisket or fish, like salmon, instead of the roasted lamb, and to include vegetables and potatoes with the meal.  Other family recipes and regional items are prepared, like latkes (potato pancakes) and gefilte fish (a poached mixture of carp, whitefish or pike). The most important part of the Seder, or Passover meal, is to bring the family together to celebrate their heritage and freedom.

For more information on Passover, visit the website.

The Alternative Press wishes the Jewish community a blessed "Chag pesach".


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