April 23, 2005
By now, the cupboards and pantries in Jewish households are empty of chametz, all food with yeast. Families have performed the age-old sweep of their home called the "bedikat chametz" (or search for chametz) and removed packages of food, according to Passover tradition.
They also went in search of small crumbs. Whether with a feather or with a Dustbuster, families searched all the nooks in quest of every smidgen — some people ritually burning their little piles of crumbs. Some took their unopened and nonperishable, leavened foods to collection boxes at temples and Jewish community centers for the St. Vincent de Paul Society or Salvation Army or to give to needy families. It was important that the food be gone before today and that no leavened foods turn up in their homes until May 1 to be kosher.
Pesach, or Passover, begins at nightfall today. For eight days, Jews celebrate freedom.
It’s the oldest Jewish holiday and is a favorite because of its distinct traditions, especially Seder meals, when families gather for an ordered, ritual-filled meal, with readings from the Haggadah, a treasury of rich Jewish stories. It harks back to the liberation of Jews, under the leadership of Moses, from slavery in Egypt, as told in the 12th chapter of Exodus. The Passover story tells how the angel of death "passed over" all the houses and animal herds of Egypt, killing every firstborn male except those in the homes of the Hebrew people, who had spread the blood of their goats and sheep on their doorways to alert the angel to spare them.
And when the order came to flee Egypt en masse, they scrambled off before they had time to add yeast to their dough. So the Jews wrapped it in clothing and carried it away on their shoulders in their passage out of Egypt through the parted Red Sea, the text says.
"Celebrate the Feast of the Unleavened Bread because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt," it’s told in Exodus 12:17. "Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come."
Officially, Passover falls in March or April, beginning on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, with liberation and freedom repeatedly underscored. Periodic adjustments to the lunar calendar keep Passover in the spring months. Otherwise, it and other Jewish holidays would move successively earlier each year, as happens in the Islamic calendar.
Families across the Jewish world will take part in Passover Seder meals the first two nights, sitting down to tables with Seder plates, with their six commemorative and symbolic foods that conjure key element of the Passover saga.
There will be the maror, or bitter herbs such as horseradish, symboling the bitterness of their years of slavery; the beitzah, or roasted egg, for the recycling of life; the roasted shank bone (commonly a roasted chicken neck), a reminder of the lambs the Hebrews were ordered to eat the night before they fled their homes; haroset, a mixture of chopped applies, fruits, nuts and wine, symbolizing the mortar ancestors used to build monuments; and the chazeret, or greens such as parsley or lettuce, with sweet leaves and bitter roots that speak to the injustices of exile turning to slavery. Among other rites of the Seder, which means "order," is the drinking of four cups of wine.
Last Monday night, a dozen families took part in a "chocolate Seder meal" at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center in Scottsdale. Green M &M candy served as the parsley, bitter chocolate represented the bitter herbs, chocolate eggs replaced the boiled egg, and chocolate milk took the place of wine. Participants also ate chocolatecovered matzo. Even the plates were made of chocolate.
Before drinking that milk, someone read, "Blessed are you, eternal our God, creator of the cocoa bean of the tree."
"This is not what I consider a religious Seder," said Suzanne Swift, adult services director of the center. "This is more of a fun kind of thing."
Chocolate Seders have been around for at least 10 years, she said. "There are lots of varieties of them. It’s a fun way to bring people together."
The center was also offering its annual matzo factory for children, giving them the opportunity to mix water and flour and roll and twist dough.
Widely popular are Passover vacation packages where Jewish families literally abandoned their homes — yeastladen foods and all — and stay at a hotel or resort for Seders, Shabbat services and recreational fun.