With fear and division on the rise, the Jewish example of opening their hearts and homes, and embracing others, remains more important than ever.
All other civilizations—the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans—rose and fell, but the Jews remain, as Mark Twain famously noted. Central to the story of Jewish survival is the Exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land that is retold every year on Passover. This historic Jewish holiday is a story of freedom, faith and family.
Jews have been celebrating Passover (Pesach) for more than 3,000 years. It originated in the time of Moses and commemorates the Israelites’ freedom from oppression. The holiday is one of the oldest and most significant Jewish festivals. It is filled with symbols and rituals that connect Jews to their ancestors and faith. The ancient tradition unites Jews; most American Jews attend a seder, even those who don’t belong to a synagogue or observe other holidays.
A traditional Passover meal features a seder feast and Haggadah reading—a retelling of the Book of Exodus story. Seder refers to the order of the ritual meal, and includes a variety of symbolic foods. A major story recounted in the Haggadah is the 10 plagues G-d inflicted on Egypt to convince the Pharaoh to free the Israelites from slavery. The seder is an interactive experience, allowing families to connect and pass on traditions and values from one generation to the next. The Haggadah is often passed down within Jewish families and is a cherished part of Jewish culture.
Seder participants take turns reciting the story of Exodus and explaining the significance of each of the symbolic foods on the seder plate, which serves as a visual aid to help tell the story of the Israelites’ liberation from slavery: maror (bitter herbs) representing the bitterness of slavery; karpas (parsley) symbolizing the tears shed by the Jewish slaves; and z’roa (chicken wing) signifying the sacrificial offering at the Jerusalem Temple—destroyed once by the Babylonians and again by the Romans. Jews also eat traditional Passover foods, such as matzah (unleavened bread) to commemorate the hurried departure from Egypt, when there was no time to let bread rise.
The phrase “Next year in Jerusalem” has always been recited at the end of the Passover seder. The promise expresses the Jewish people’s hope and longing for rebirth and a time when they can return to Jerusalem and their ancestral land. The vow is believed to have originated during the time of the Babylonian exile when Jews were forced to leave Jerusalem and were unable to practice their religion. The pledge represents Jewish civilization’s resilience, hope and determination to overcome adversity and fulfill aspirations to return to Jerusalem, as well as to rebuild the Temple as a symbol of faith and national identity.
Jerusalem is mentioned several times in the Haggadah. Passover was one of the three pilgrimage festivals that required Jews to make the journey there during the Second Temple period. During Passover, many Jews make a special effort to visit Jerusalem and pray at the Western Wall.
Passover is a story of the power of faith. The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for many years, but they never lost conviction in G-d’s promise to deliver them from bondage. Even in the face of great hardship and suffering, they continued to trust that G-d would help them achieve their freedom. Passover’s central themes of freedom, faith and family remain as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago.
Points to consider:
- ‘Next year in Jerusalem’: Connection to the Jewish capital.
Every year, every Jew, everywhere, celebrating Passover announces: “Next year in Jerusalem!” After wandering in the desert for 40 years, the Israelites reached the Promised Land. They made the land their home, with King David uniting the Israelite tribes and establishing the kingdom of Israel with Jerusalem as its capital around 1000 BCE. Unfortunately, after different empires conquered the land, Jews were often expelled or forced to live under oppressive conditions. Despite these challenges, Jews maintained a connection to their past and a hope for their future. During Passover, Jerusalem is a symbol of freedom, redemption and the enduring power of Jewish tradition. Jerusalem, the eternal home of the Jews, is once again the capital of Israel.
- Passover is a story about liberation from oppression.
The story of the Exodus is a powerful symbol of liberation from oppression and the triumph of justice over tyranny. It has been an inspiration to people around the world who have struggled for freedom and equality, and it remains a central part of Jewish identity and culture. Slavery is a plague of humanity, even continuing today: brutal dehumanizing treatment, denial of basic rights and a struggle for liberation. The story of the Jewish Exodus was considered so powerful that American slave owners censored certain parts of the Bible, especially Exodus, to prevent slaves from reading and interpreting these stories in a way that could encourage rebellion (WATCH). Passover encourages Jews to remember the struggles of their ancestors and to continue their legacy by working towards a world where all people are free to live with dignity and respect.
- Jews provide leadership on friendship towards others.
Jews have learned the importance of compassion towards others from their long history of facing discrimination. They understand what it means to be an outsider and are often the first to extend a helping hand to those in need. Jews embody this spirit of openness by actively engaging with people of different backgrounds and beliefs. Many Jews seek opportunities to build bridges of understanding and respect. Jewish organizations often hold interfaith events different religions come together to learn and celebrate their shared humanity. Jewish hospitality is a fundamental value in Judaism. Jews are taught to welcome guests into their homes and provide them with food, shelter and a welcoming environment. With fear and division on the rise, the Jewish example of opening their hearts and homes and embracing others is more important than ever.
- Passover shares similar cultural themes with Easter and Ramadan.
Passover is a time for joyous celebration and reflection, as well as a time for reconnecting with family and community. The traditions and rituals of the holiday reinforce the importance of freedom and faith, and provide a way for Jews to connect with their history and culture. Passover often falls on the calendar close to Easter and Ramadan. While each faith’s holiday has distinct histories, religious beliefs and practices, there are some similarities. The three holidays have significant religious and cultural importance; involve religious rituals and practices; and include eating traditional foods. Passover and Easter share the concept of rebirth—the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery and rebirth as a free people. Passover and Ramadan involve fasting; Jews are prohibited from eating leavened bread and other forbidden foods.