Kaua‘i’s Jewish community and visitors celebrate Passover

“Passover is a celebration of freedom — being free from bondage both physically, psychologically and emotionally. It is also a time to remember and hold prayer for all those in the world today who are not free,” said Marty Kahn, director of the Jewish Community of Kaua‘i.

Passover began at sundown Monday, and people of the Jewish faith celebrated by holding a Pesach (Passover) seder. On Kaua‘i nearly 100 people (40 percent visitor and 60 percent resident) observed the holy day at the Hilton with visiting Rabbi Barry Kogan leading the meal.

Pesach, commonly called Passover, is one of three major festivals that mark historical and agricultural festivals that coincide with the beginning of the growing season in Israel. Historically, Passover is an opportunity for observing Jews to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt of their people, the long struggle and eventual freedom from enslavement as it is told in Exodus, chapters 1-15 of the Old Testament. The name Passover (Pesach, meaning “skipping” or passing over) derives from the story of the night of the Tenth Plague, when the Angel of Death saw the blood of the Passover lamb on the door posts of the houses of Israel and “skipped over” them, sparing their firstborn.

The first night of Passover is celebrated with a traditional family meal called a seder, from the Hebrew word meaning ‘order.’ The most significant observance related to Passover is the abstaining and removing of any leavened bread from the house for the entire week preceding the first night. This commemorates the story of the Jews, fleeing from Egypt, who had no time to wait for bread to rise. “It is also a symbolic way of removing the ‘puffiness’ (arrogance and pride), from our souls,” writes Rabbi Tracy Rich.

From this there is the matzoh, the unleavened grain bread which is blessed, broken and eaten at designated times during the seder.

This highly ritualized meal includes eating food that has specific symbolic meaning in the story of the Exodus — during the ‘maggid’ (the story) the youngest member of the family begins by asking the first of ‘The Four Questions’ aloud, “why is this night different from all other nights?” The eldest or head of the family reads or sings the answers. The four questions, which come from the Talmud, remind the family why they are celebrating Passover and encourage the young people, the next generation, to understand and perpetuate these traditions. “The maggid is designed to satisfy the needs of four different types of people: The wise one, who wants to know the technical details; the wicked one, who excludes himself (and learns the penalty for doing so); the simple one, who needs to know the basics; and the one who is unable to ask, who doesn’t even know enough to know what he needs to know,” writes Rich.

At certain designated times, foods symbolic of the Exodus are eaten and the story is recited. For instance, parsley dipped in salt water recalls tears that were shed along the way; also “a blessing is recited over a bitter vegetable (usually raw horseradish; sometimes romaine lettuce), and it is eaten. This symbolizes the bitterness of slavery,” writes Rich.

Four cups of wine or grape juice are sipped at designated times and with specific blessings, and several other meaningful foods are spoken of and consumed.

The seder is followed by a festive meal with family and friends. “This is a time we observe for peace and prayer for harmony in the world — a remembrance and a hope,” said Kahn.

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