Passover: March 25-April 2

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Passover is one of the most important holidays of the Jewish year.  Passover celebrates the biblical account of the ancient Israelites’ redemption from slavery in Egypt to freedom.
According to the book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible, the Pharaoh (ruler) of Egypt enslaved the Israelites, forcing them to endure cruel labor and eventually ordered the murder of all male children.  God appointed Moses to become the leader of the Israelites and demand that Pharaoh free them.  Pharaoh refused to do so, and in response God, through Moses, unleashed a series of ten plagues against Egypt.  After the final plague, the killing of all first-born Egyptian sons, Pharaoh permitted the Israelites to leave.  They hurriedly fled, only to be chased by Pharaoh and his army after Pharaoh had a change of heart.  The Israelites became trapped at the Red Sea, but then God parted the water so they could cross to the other side.  As the Egyptians chased them, God released the waters in order to drown all the Egyptian forces.  The Israelites then became free.
Today, Jews commemorate the Exodus story through the celebration of Passover.  The holiday begins at night (as do all Jewish holidays) on the 14th night of the Hebrew month of Nissan.  Jews gather together in homes and conduct a Seder, a festive meal following a set order, which combines eating with storytelling and singing.  The primary objective of the Seder is to prompt children who are present to ask why the meal is being conducted in such an unusual way.  The fundamental purpose of the Passover Seder is pedagogical–to facilitate the retelling of the Exodus story in order to make those in attendance feel as if they personally experienced the liberation from servitude in Egypt.  Interestingly, modern scholarship has shown that there are remarkable parallels between the Passover Seder and the Greek Symposium: both were highly stylized meals meant to stimulate edification.
Passover lasts for seven days and Seders are held on the first two nights.  Perhaps the most famous ritual of Passover is the prohibition of eating food made from grains (wheat, oats, barley, spelt, rice, etc.).  The only type of grain that can be eaten is matzah, which is made from flour and water that can only be in contact with one another for less than 18 minutes.  The hard, flat texture of matzah evokes the Israelites rushed departure when they first fled Egypt.  Passover is an extremely popular holiday among Jews; some recent surveys suggest that it is the most widely practiced holiday of the entire year.

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