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State College, Penn State Jewish Communities Celebrate Passover

by on April 15, 2014 2:00 PM

The Jewish community in State College is celebrating Passover this week, the most widely celebrated holiday among Jews in America.

Passover, which began Monday night, is the weeklong Jewish commemoration of the deliverance of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.

According to the Hebrew Bible, God helped the children of Israel escape by visiting ten plagues upon the Egyptians. The tenth plague was the death of every Egyptian first-born child. The Israelites were told to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a slaughtered lamb. Seeing this, the spirit of the Lord knew to pass over those homes, giving Passover its name.

There are three main sacred commandments for Passover, according to Rabbi David Ostrich of Congregation Brit Shalom on East Hamilton Avenue. The first is to tell the story of the exodus, which is accomplished on the first night through a long, elaborate meal called the Seder. 

Ostrich described the Seder as a feast of liberation where Jews get together to remember the exodus of Egypt as well as appreciate the blessings God has given them.

"It's a happy time. It involves families getting together, not only to remember ancient times, but also to remember our own family times," says Ostrich.

Ultimately, Ostrich says the goal is a moral transformation as well as reiterate the desire for Jews to never want to be oppressors or enslave other people and to help free those who are enslaved.

The Hillel at Penn State, the largest student organization on campus, celebrated Seder Monday night with roughly 300 students attending, according to executive director Aaron Kaufman.

"Passover is one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays in America," Kaufman says. "It's a time when families come together to retell the story of our history, understanding our past, and having a better sense of our own shared experiences."

Kaufman estimates there are between 4,000 and 6,000 Jewish students at Penn State. The university accommodates those students by offering a kosher food bar during Passover.

Some families and university groups will celebrate a second Seder Tuesday night.

The second sacred commandment over Passover is for Jews to eat unleavened bread. During the exodus, Jews didn't have the time to let bread rise, so they made flat bread that could be baked quickly. The third commandment is for Jews not to eat chametz, leavened grain products.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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