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The Meaning of Passover, Judaism's Most Child-Friendly Holiday

by on April 03, 2015 6:50 AM

What do horseradish, parsley, apple sauce, a lamb bone, hard-boiled eggs, and lettuce have in common?

If you don't have any experience with Passover, the week-long Jewish holiday beginning at sundown Friday, you're likely confused.

If you've been to a Passover Seder, the holiday's ritual feast, you might recognize the six items above from the ceremonial Seder plate. The plate is just one of many holiday traditions geared toward teaching children about the birth of the Jewish people.

"It's the prominent child-oriented holiday in the faith," says Nosson Meretsky, rabbi at the Penn State Chabad, located in downtown State College. "That's what the entire holiday is all about, getting children interested so that they want to ask questions about the holiday."

Meretsky stresses how important Passover is within the Jewish faith, which plays directly into the holiday's focus on drawing the interest of children.

"According to Jewish tradition, Passover marks the true beginning of the Jewish people," he says. 

While Judaism traces its ancestry back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it's often said within the faith that the Jewish people were truly born after escaping slavery in Egypt. Passover is representative of God claiming the Jewish people and bringing them to a position of importance and holiness, says Rabbi David Ostrich of State College’s Congregation Brit Shalom.

"Immediately after the slavery in Egypt we were in a position of having very little worth in the world," Ostrich says. "That's why Passover, which celebrates the exodus from Egypt, is almost the founder’s day of Judaism."

Ostrich says that the holiday's main theme is to tell your child about what God did for the Jewish people, but getting a toddler's attention during a religious ritual can be an exercise in futility. 

That's why the Passover Seder is so unique in comparison to the faith's other preeminent holidays, such as Chanukah or Yom Kippur. Participants are supposed to sit reclined at the dinner table, pour a glass of wine and open the front door for the spirit of Elijah, and eat unleavened bread.

"We do these things so that the children at the Seder ask questions about them, and they are all connected to the story of Passover and the meaning of the holiday," Meretsky says.

For example, the matzah is representative of the Jews being unable to let their bread rise before cooking it when escaping Egypt. The horseradish is eaten to symbolize the suffering when in Egypt, while you dip the parsley in saltwater to represent the tears of the slaves.

Both the Chabad and Congregation Brit Shalom will be hosting Passover services and dinners this weekend.

All of Passover's intricacies work to express its importance to the children. When he was a child, Ostrich recognized how significant the holiday is before he ever truly understood the meaning of its many facets.

"When I was growing up, we used to always have a community Seder with lots of families," he says. "It was a very special time where we can get together. It always seemed to be very important and I was always excited to participate. As I gradually grew up, I learned why these things are important."

 

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Zach Berger is the managing editor of StateCollege.com. He graduated from Penn State University in 2014 with a degree in print journalism. Zach enjoys writing about a variety of topics ranging from football to government, music, and everything in between.
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