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Passover celebration starts

Eight-day holiday marks the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt

Posted: April 9, 2009 12:01 a.m.
Updated: April 9, 2009 4:55 a.m.
As the sun made its exit last night, its setting marked the beginning of Passover for the Jewish community.

Passover is celebrated in Jewish homes to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt by the Israelites and their liberation from slavery.

"Passover is really when Judaism as a religion began," Rabbi Ira Rosenfeld said of Congregation Beth Shalom said. "That is the moment we became a religious nation. It's the biggest holiday."

"This is the first time in history where slaves became free people," said Rabbi Jay Levy of Temple Or Emet. "Back then, if you were born a slave, you died a slave. If you were born a Pharaoh, you died a Pharaoh. It defined who you were and what you could do. The Jews escaping from slavery upset the apple cart, forever."

The holiday is a great opportunity for the Jewish community to stop and think of what life was like, what it could have been, and how lucky they are now, Levy said.

People celebrate the eight-day-long holiday in a variety of ways, but most open up their homes and hearts to those who feel like outsiders.

Local Santa Clarita temples organize community seders, ritualized dinners that are open to everyone, Jewish or not.

"We know what's its like to be strangers in a strange land," Rosenfeld said. "We like to invite others and make them feel welcome."

Rosenfeld recognized that people feel like outsiders sometimes, "whether you're the new kid in school, the only guy in a group of a bunch of girls, or even the son or daughter of a Rabbi."

"One of the best interpretations (of Passover) is to make everyone feel honored and respected," he said.

"Passover is not only a chance for Jews to celebrate," Levy said, "but everyone should celebrate it. It's a story that is common to all people."

The Haggadah, the text depicting the order of the Passover Seder, says "all who are hungry, come and eat," Levy said. Inviting others to join is part of the celebration.

The celebratory dinner is symbolic and each of its 15 steps has a specific purpose.

"We are taught to observe the holiday but also experience the slavery and then be free," Rosenfeld said. "Along the way we dip a vegetable in salt water and eat it to symbolize the tears of slavery. We also eat a bitter vegetable, a horseradish, to symbolize the bitterness of slavery."

"The only obligation is to participate," Levy said. "It's not just watching the Rabbi talk. We eat, we sing, we ask questions. Kids and adults are involved."

The Exodus story is told in the present tense, making it relevant to today's struggles, Levy said.

"We are all slaves in certain ways," he said. "Slaves to things outside of us, whether it is fear or procrastination ... we all deal with these things. Even me.

"We all need to cross over the horizon and reach the promise land today too, not only the way they did back then."

Or Emet will host its community Seder tonight at 6 p.m. at the Northridge Point Recreation Center. Call (661) 253-0596 for more information. Congregation Beth Shalom will host its community Seder tonight at 5:30 p.m. in its synagogue. Call (661) 254-2411.


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