The story of Passover focuses on the 10 plagues that G-d imposed upon the Egyptians to persuade Pharaoh to free the Jewish people after he refused:
The name Pesach, which translates as “pass over”, refers to the 10th plague where G-d passed over the Jewish homes, sparing the firstborn. G-d knew which homes to pass over as he told the Jewish people to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a slaughtered lamb.
During the 8 days we are not allowed to eat any chametz (pronounced ha-metz). Chametz means leavened grain so any food that contains wheat, barley, rye and oats. Therefore no bread, pasta, rice, cereals – great if you’re an Atkins fan or gluten free like me. This commemorates when we were freed from slavery and left with unleavened bread as we did not have time to wait for it to rise. Instead we eat matzah (similar to a cracker). Prior to Pesach starting, the house is cleaned so as not to leave a single crumb. Traditionally this is done with a candle and feather.
A large part of being Jewish is keeping kosher (all year round not specifically for Pesach). As part of this, we have two sets of crockery and cutlery. One for meat meals and another set for dairy, as we cannot mix meat and milk together. That’s correct – I’ve never had a cheeseburger!
As our everyday sets will have contained chametz, we use different sets specifically for Pesach. This also includes mugs, pans and basically anything you’d use in the kitchen. So I have four sets of everything!
On the first two nights we have a Seder (“order” in Hebrew). We sit down as a family and recite/sing from the haggadah in Hebrew. The haggadah (“telling” in Hebrew) is a book with songs, prayers and blessings which tells the story of Pesach.
We have a seder plate in the middle of the table and contains 6 items:
The number 4 features heavily in the Seder:
There are also 3 sheets of Matzah on the table in a special cloth which separates each layer. The middle layer is broken and the larger half is called the afikomen. This is where a piece of matzah is hidden in the house for the children to find, although our dog Rafferty found it (and ate it) quicker than me and my sister last year.
As part of the Seder we use a finger to dab a drop of wine for each of the 10 plagues, whilst we recite them in Hebrew, to remember the suffering of the Egyptians. You’re not meant to lick your finger (similar difficulty as not licking your lips when you eat a doughnut).
Before the meal, halfway through the Seder, we eat a hard-boiled egg in very salty water. The salt water symbolises tears and the egg symbolises life. You’re not meant to enjoy eating it but we secretly (or not so secretly now) do!
For me the Seder reminds me of my childhood as we would have a Seder in nursery and primary school each year, as well as at home with the family (albeit with grape juice then instead of wine). It’s also a good opportunity for me to practice my Hebrew as I went from learning it every day from nursery until GCSEs to using it just for festivals, such as Pesach, Chanukah, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I also still use the haggadah I was presented with when leaving primary school. My grandma uses her haggadah awarded from her Hebrew classes in 1946. I believe the observance and upholding the tradition also pays tribute to past generations who are no longer with us.
It is also really important to me to sit down as a family to celebrate and remember how we have overcome many difficult times and how we continue to do so in today’s society.