Jewish students, faculty prepare for Passover

The Passover holiday begins the evening of April 16 and lasts until the evening of April 23, and Jewish SHSU students and professors are preparing to celebrate the event.

The history of Passover dates back to the history of Israelites living in ancient Egypt. According to the book of Exodus, the Jewish people were slaves under Egyptian rule for more than three centuries.

In the year 2448 on the Jewish calendar, or 1312 B.C. according to the modern one, the Hebrew prophet Moses traveled to the capital city Thebes to convince the Egyptian Pharaoh to release the Jewish people. When the Pharaoh refused, God cursed Egypt with various plagues, including turning the Nile River into blood, and creating infestations of pests such as frogs and locusts.

When the Pharaoh still refused to release the Israelites, Moses received preparations from God concerning the final plague. In order to escape the plague, people in Egypt were to prepare a meal of lamb and then smear the lamb’s blood above their doors.

The firstborn son of any family who did not obey the edict would die, but the spirit of God would “pass over” the homes that followed the commands. After the Passover, the Pharaoh finally relented and let the Israelites go.

Sophomore Jason Plotkin, president of the Jewish student group Hillel, said the custom of celebrating the Passover is the most celebrated Jewish event of the year. During the first two evenings of Passover, a ritual called the Seder takes place, in which the family gathers to eat a special meal and retell the story of the Jewish exodus.

“Throughout Passover, Jews who keep the Passover refrain from eating chametz (leavened products) such as breads, and the reason for this is because the Israelites were in a rush leaving Egypt, so the bread had no time to rise,” Plotkin said.

During the Seder, a special meal is prepared called the Seder plate, with each item on the plate meant to represent the dispersion of the Jewish people from Egypt.

The Seder meal includes parsley and other greens for renewal, a mixture of fruits, nuts and wine called haroset for labor, bitter herbs such as horse radish to represent when life becomes bitter, a roasted egg called betza for free will sacrifice to the temple, a sheep shank bone to symbolize the lamb that was sacrificed, salt water for the tears of the Jewish people and Matzoh bread for the unleavened bread the Israelites ate while fleeing Egypt.

Plotkin said his family spends the holiday singing songs in Hebrew and reciting prayers, such as the traditional blessing of the wine. He said his family takes turns reading a paragraph of the account from Exodus, with many family members reading a specific paragraph reserved for them.

“The actual Seder itself is my favorite Jewish event of the year because our family has many traditions that I look forward to year after year,” Plotkin said.

Sophomore Amy Mabel said that this Passover, her roommates will be attending her family’s Seder in order to learn about the holiday from a Jewish perspective.

“We read the story of Passover, but we also explain so that people who are not Jews who come to our house can understand it,” Mabel said.

Mabel said she hopes people will learn more about Passover and its place in Jewish history.

“Personally, I like to know about everyone’s traditions because that’s important to me,” Mabel said. “So I think those interested in learning about anybody’s culture should respect other people’s traditions and inform themselves.”

Associate Dean of the College of Business Administrations Mitch Muehsam said Passover is a reminder to him of how to treat other human beings with respect.

“To me, the celebration of the holiday is recognition of what the holiday is meant to mean, and how it helps you be a better person,” Muehsam said.

Muehsam said that from the Jewish perspective there is no real connection between Easter and Passover, and that Passover is a time to reflect on history. Since Huntsville does not have a large Jewish population, he said there are only three things he and others can do, reflect privately on Passover, meet with a group of friends, or leave town and visit with family or another community that does have a large Jewish base.

Muehsam added that Jews tend to view Judaism as a way of life and not as a religion. He said the holiday is intended to be a reminder of what occurred in the history of the Jewish people.

“We would not in any way put people in a place that we were in,” Muehsam said. “The value of freedom, the value of the right to follow your own faith and we should respect other people’s desire to follow their own faith.”

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