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Lifestyle

April 16, 2008

An invitation to Passover: Traditional Seder is rich with readings, rituals and symbolic foods

The first time Abigail Auer attended a Passover Seder, she was eager to make a good impression and asked the hostess — also her future mother-in-law — to suggest a dish she could bring.

Auer, who is Roman Catholic, spent hours chopping and pureeing squash for a casserole.

As she spread on the bread-crumb topping, she asked her future husband and his roommate, both Jewish, "How come you can have bread crumbs, but not bread?"

"Their faces just said, 'Oh no,'" recalled Auer. Her mother-in-law, who had provided the recipe, had forgotten it included a bread-crumb topping, which the family had always left off in adherence to kosher-for-Passover laws.

When Auer's attempts to scrape off the bread crumbs failed, she left the casserole at home and brought flowers instead.

For Passover novices, an invitation to a Seder can be exciting, and a bit intimidating.

The most widely celebrated Jewish festival, Passover, which begins at sundown Saturday and is also known by its Hebrew name Pesach, commemorates the ancient Israelites' liberation from Egyptian slavery.

At a Passover Seder, a celebratory meal, the story of the Exodus is retold through readings, rituals and symbolic foods.

While some foods, such as matzo and bitter herbs, are required eating, others, including bread, are forbidden. Traditional Jews can't even store the taboo items in their homes or eat from dishes or cutlery that have touched them.

To a newcomer, the numerous rules and traditions can be overwhelming. Even veteran Seder-goers can find them confusing, particularly since the diversity of American Jews results in many different ways of celebrating.

Here's what you need to know:

The basics

All Seders include a few basic elements, such as kosher wine, matzo (unleavened bread), a Seder plate (a special plate that displays symbolic foods) and a reading of the Haggadah, the book that serves as a guide to the ceremony.

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