Fred Scheff says his family traditionally eats horseradish during Passover.
Dan Breslauer says the tradition in his wife's family is to eat onions. But in both cases, the pungent foods serve as reminders of the bitter times Jews experienced centuries ago as slaves in Egypt.
Passover this year begins at sunset Friday and lasts eight days until sunset April 25. During Passover, Jews eat a special meal as part of a Seder, or order of prayers.
In addition to a food representing the Bitter Herb, Jews eat matzo, or unleavened bread, during the special meal. The tradition actually is to refrain from eating any foods that could leaven throughout all of Passover.
"THE REASON you don't eat leavened bread is that it takes time for bread to leaven, to rise," Scheff said. "As a reminder to us of the hurry in which the Hebrew children left Egypt, we eat unleavened bread."
Breslauer, a professor of religious studies at Kansas University, said the diet of Jews during Passover varies with their geographical location.
For example, a food staple of Eastern Europe is a paste made from dried peas. Because that paste could leaven, Jews in Eastern Europe do not eat peas during Passover. Spanish Jews, on the other hand, eat fresh peas and see no reason to keep them off their plates during Passover.
Breslauer said what is used to represent the Bitter Herb also varies from one culture to another.
THE THIRD important symbol during Passover is the paschal lamb, which represents the lambs that were sacrificed to protect the Jews in Egypt when God brought a plague on the first-born in the land.
In Exodus 12:21-23, Moses tells the Israelite elders to take the blood from slaughtered lambs and smear it on the doors of their homes.
"The Lord will go throughout Egypt and strike . . ., but when he sees the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, he will pass over that door and not let the destroyer enter to strike you," Moses tells the elders.
The custom of sacrificing a lamb during Passover has been replaced with an emphasis on prayer, especially during the last days of Passover.
Scheff said that because the Israelites escaped from Egypt, Passover is observed not only "in memory of those who lived in slavery" but also "in celebration of freedom."
BRESLAUER SAID Jews drink wine during the Seder meal as a symbol of joy. The wine, however, also is used during the Seder to remember the plagues brought upon Egyptians. During one special prayer, one dips a finger into one's wine and removes a drop after each of the 10 plagues is mentioned.
"We, too, suffer in the suffering of our enemies," Breslauer said. "While the plagues are mentioned in the prayer, we diminish our joy by diminishing our wine."
The Lawrence Jewish Community Center has scheduled a number of events during Passover. The center will have a service at 9:30 a.m. and a Community Seder at 5:30 p.m. next Saturday. Reservations are needed for the Community Seder.
Also, the center will have a religious school model Seder at 11 a.m. April 19.