Passover, Pesach, Easter – What the what??

25 Mar

A typical seder setting

So many people have been asking me what the difference is between Passover, Pesach and Easter. I’m going to assume you know what Easter is all about so I’ll just tackle Passover and Pesach.

Passover, or Pesach as it is known in Hebrew, is probably the biggest and most celebrated of all Jewish holidays. It’s not quite on the same scale commercially as Christmas, but spiritually and religiously, it’s right in there.

Typically, Pesach kicks off with a big family meal on the first evening of the holiday, known as the seder. This meal launches the holiday and is usually attended by many family members – most of my friends are expecting 30+ relatives at their family dinner. One of my professors has 42 people coming to her house for dinner tonight!

I will be joining a friend’s family seder. These dinners take many hours as the story of the Exodus from Egypt is retold using a special book called the Haggadah. As you listen, you drink and eat specific things at specific times in the story. Always present at these dinners is a seder plate. There is lots of singing, many of glasses of wine and audience participation. I will try to take pictures and tell you all about it.

Of course, preparation is everything, and preparing for Pessach is intense. Jewish law prohibits the eating, owning or even presence of chametz (which is either a grain product that is already fermented, such as yeast breads, cake, and most alcoholic drinks, or a substance that can cause fermentation, such as yeast) in the house during the holiday, which means one heck of a spring clean to get rid of all those breadcrumbs. Sales of cleaning products naturally go through the roof around this time. Grocery stores even go so far as to cover prohibited items in the store during Pesach. I will try to get some pictures of this since nothing was covered yet last time I was in the store.

Also, there is a tradition that Jews can “sell” their chametz to a non-Jew. As the token non-Jew still on campus – I have “bought” about three different friends items. I paid 2 shekels to each person. At the end of Passover, they can “buy” their items back from me. When I threatened to charge a markup for one friend he laughingly responded, “You have lived in Israel too long.”

So, if there’s no chametz (no bread, no cakes, no pasta etc), what is there to eat? Well, apart from some yummy meat dishes, the staple food of the Pesach holiday is matzo bread (unleavened bread, which represents the Hebrews’ rapid exodus from Egypt and their lack of time to cook proper bread). This is a cracker-like bread, which is fondly described as tasting only marginally better than the box it comes in. I’ve lost track of how many Israelis have told me that the only way to eat matzo is the slather it in Nutella or the Israeli version –  HaShachar.  I think anything tastes better with Nutella! I will be trying to stick with the rules during this week but as a non-Jew I am technically excused from it.

The Pesach holiday lasts for a week. My campus is closed all this week, however, we don’t have classes again until April 7th.

Have any questions I didn’t answer? Ask below and I’ll try to answer them (or find someone who can!).

One Response to “Passover, Pesach, Easter – What the what??”

  1. Karyn McNeal March 25, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

    Soooo very interesting! We were just talking about this in our group yesterday. Thanks for sharing! I’m definitely eager to read the follow-ups to this! 🙂 Enjoy!

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