The Jewish holiday of Passover begins Wednesday.
Passover, which commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt more than 2,000 years ago, also signifies spring and a time of reflection for people who are enslaved today, an area rabbi said.
"Of all of the Jewish holidays, it is the one most widely celebrated by more Jews than any other Jewish holiday," said Judith Beiner, rabbi of the Lawrence Jewish Community Center, 917 Highland Dr.
"It's an important part of Jewish existence."
Passover begins Wednesday evening and is marked for the next seven or eight days -- reformed Jews mark the holiday over seven days, while conservative and orthodox Jews mark it over eight days, Beiner said.
The story of Passover is written in the book of Exodus in the Bible. According to the story, Moses attempts to convince the Pharaoh Ramses II to let the Jewish slaves go. A series of plagues is set upon Egypt by Moses and God.
In the 10th plague, the first-born male child of every Egyptian family is killed. To avoid the death of their children, the Jews were instructed to mark their door with the blood of the lamb so that the angel of death would pass over them.
Today, Passover is largely celebrated with traditions established around 1500 A.D., Beiner said.
A big part of Passover today, she said, is the Seder (pronounced Say-der), or feast.
"Folks will have their first Seder on the first night of Passover," she said.
"On the second night (Thursday), there will be a community Seder in the Lawrence Jewish Community Center.
The Seder plate contains specific items. One is a hard-boiled egg, which has various meanings, including the beginning of life and the beginning of spring.
A small bowl of salt water represents the tears and sweat of the Jewish people when they were in Egypt. The plate contains bitter herbs, which represent the bitterness of the Jews' struggle when they were in Egypt.
The plate also contains a roasted shank bone, greens or parsley, apples and other fruits, and matzo or unleavened bread.
In addition to the Seder, the Passover service includes a large feast. However, Jews are not allowed to eat leavened food, including regular bread, pasta, rice or grains during Passover.
"I think one of the main factors that has allowed Passover to survive, when so many other Jewish holidays have fallen by the wayside, is that it's centered around food," Beiner said.
In addition to reflecting on their past, Jews also use Passover as a time to think about spring and to reflect on people who are enslaved -- literally or figuratively -- today, Beiner said.
"It's a time we can focus on the plight of other peoples," she said. "We very much focus on oppression rather than freedom."
During Passover, Beiner said, many Jewish families invite guests to their homes to celebrate the holiday with them.
-- Michael Dekker's phone message number is 832-7187. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.