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Spring brings Holy Week, Passover

March 26, 2002|By STEFANIE GREENBERG, Staff Writer

The first day of spring not only brings warm weather and flowers in bloom but a time of celebration for two of the world's largest religions.

Palm Sunday, celebrating Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, kicked off two days ago a Holy Week preceding Easter. Many people, however, already started their preparations for Easter with the 40-day penitential season of Lent. Beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding at midnight on Holy Saturday, Lent is a season of prayer, abstinence and fasting. Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Easter uses a formula to provide its celebration date. The Council of Nicaea decided the date would be the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox (first day of spring).

Easter has many traditions — an Easter egg hunt, the Easter bunny, an Easter dinner and one of the most beloved by kids, the Easter basket filled with candies.


Passover, a holiday celebrated by Jews around the world, is a time for reflection and celebration.

The story of Passover is the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Passover starts this year Wednesday night and lasts seven or eight days, depending on religious affiliation. The start date is based on the lunar calendar (instead of the solar calendar), changing the date from year to year. Thus the start date is always the same in the Jewish calendar — the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (celebration begins sundown the night before).

Jews celebrate the holiday by reading the story of Passover and conducting a seder. Read below for more information about Passover.

10 Passover facts

1. Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) is the oldest continuously celebrated Jewish festival.

2. The rabbis developed the ritual of the seder based on passages from the Torah. The Torah is made up of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. For Jews, the Torah is the most holy of all the biblical writings.

3. The Hebrew word seder means order. The seder is traditionally celebrated in the home, although community seders are popular.

4. The Haggadah is a book that contains the entire service used for the Passover seder. The central message for Jews in the Haggadah is that God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. In the Haggadah, the name of Moses is mentioned only once, to prevent Moses from becoming idolized.

5. The Hebrew word for Egypt is "mitz-rah-yim." When Jews talk about being "enslaved in mitzrahyim," they mean not only in Egypt but in all the times and places where Jews were not free to practice their religion.

6. On every seder table there is a symbolic fifth cup of wine called the "Cup for Elijah." There is a teaching that the Prophet Elijah will answer Jewish legal questions that the ancient rabbis could not resolve. One of these questions was whether Jews drink four or five cups of wine or grape juice at the seder. Jews hope Elijah will visit them on the night of the seder. If that happens, Elijah will tell whether to should drink four or five cups. Elijah will be able to drink the cup that is set aside for him.

7. Three pieces of matzah are placed in the middle of the table. They represent the three classes of Jewish people in ancient times: the Kohens — the priestly class responsible for the administration of the temple sacrifices, the Levites — the priestly class responsible for the actual performance of the temple sacrifices, and the Israelites — all other Jews.

8. The Afikomen is the last piece of food eaten at the seder. The word afikomen is the Hebrew form of the Greek word epikomion, which means dessert. It is a tradition to hide the afikomen for the children to find and "negotiate" for its return. The seder cannot be concluded until the afikomen is redeemed.

9. One of the most important concepts of the seder is that each person gain a personal understanding of the original exodus experience.

10. The exodus from Egypt is such an important event in Jewish history that it is mentioned in specific prayers each day.

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