The festival of Pesach, more commonly known as Passover, commemorates the exodus of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. This major festival not only celebrates national liberation, but also the strongly-held belief that God hears the cry of the oppressed.

The holiday originated from the key events which unfold in Exodus chapters 12 and 13,  where the word pesach refers to the ancient sacrifice (known as the Paschal Lamb); it is also said to refer to the idea that God “passed over” (pasach) the houses of the Israelites during the tenth plague.

This holiday is ultimately a celebration of freedom, and the story of the exodus from Egypt is a powerful metaphor that is appreciated not only by Jews, but by people of other faiths as well.

How Pesach is celebrated

Observed for seven days in Israel and eight days in the Diaspora, the central ritual of Pesach is the seder (which literally means “order”), a festive meal featuring foods laid out symbolically to represent the journey to freedom from Egypt. The meal follows a prescribed script from the Haggadah, a traditional text that tells the story of redemption.

For the entire duration of the holiday, it is forbidden to eat leavened food products (such as bread, pasta, etc.). This observance is based on the Jewish tradition which states that in their haste to escape from Egypt, the children of Israel did not have enough time to wait for bread to rise. Instead, they ate matzah, unleavened bread. Part of the seder includes hiding the afikoman (half of a matzah that is kept between two other matzahs during the seder and later hidden). Children search for the afikoman and usually receive a prize for finding it.

For many, the process of preparing for Pesach involves a ritual cleansing of the home, removing all leavened products, known as chametz. Some practice biur chametz (burning chametz), while others keep all the chametz in a separate area of the house where it won’t be seen, and symbolically sell it. This can be done through a local synagogue, and chametz is usually sold for a nominal amount of money (often a few coins).

While Pesach is traditionally centered on the family or the communal celebration of the seder, at its most fundamental level it is meant to be a stark reminder to extend hospitality to those who might otherwise be left on their own. The Haggadah entreats “Let all who hunger come and eat,” a moral reflection of a shared history that should be an opportunity act on the behalf of those less fortunate.

The Pesach seder traditionally ends with the hope-filled phrase “next year in Jerusalem!” Why not make celebrating Pesach in Jerusalem a reality for 2020? Visit to plan your trip of a lifetime!

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