ANDOVER — At sundown tonight, Jews all over begin to celebrate Passover with a traditional Seder meal.
The eight-day holiday also known as the “Feast of Unleaven Bread” commemorates the exodus from slavery in Egypt.
During Passover, Jews do not eat any product containing leavened flour to remember the time when their ancestors left Egypt in such a hurry that their bread did not have time to rise.
The name of the holiday also refers to God “passing over” Jewish’ homes during the final of the Ten Plagues of Egypt.
“The Passover Seder is the classic Jewish experience,” said Rabbi Robert S. Goldstein, spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel in Andover.
Goldstein said the meal starts with the youngest participant asking four questions. These questions are answered as the leader reads through the Haggadah, a book that retells the Exodus story and explains the symbols and customs.
To engage children in the Seder, there are songs and food during the ritual.
“The Seder is not a Seder without children’s participation,” Goldstein said.
Rabbi Asher Bronstein, spiritual leader of Chabad of Merrimack Valley in Andover, agreed.
“The Torah asks that the children have an active role in the Seder,” Bronstein said. “If they take an active role as children, they will stay involved.”
The Seder meal features symbolic foods — roasted shank bone representing the sacrificial lamb; bitter herbs or “maror” — usually horseradish, romaine lettuce or both — symbolizing the bitterness of slaves’ lives; Haroset — a mixture of fruit, nuts and wine representing mortar the Israelites used when making bricks for the Pharaoh’s buildings and vegetables called karpas — such as celery or parsley — dipped in saltwater to symbolize the tears shed by the slaves.
Bronstein said the items on the Seder plate are more than symbolic.
“Tears are a significant concept of something you care about. If you have no tears, you have no sensitivity,” Bronstein said.
He said Passover is one of the most significant holy days for Jews.
“It’s the first holiday we had while leaving Egypt and it began the Jewish people as a nation before going to Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments,” Bronstein said.
“Why is it important to remember? Because it’s important to be liberated. Everyone has aches, pains and Passover is a time to relieve that,” Bronstein said.
“The richness of Judaic tradition and the endurance of the Jewish people have less to do with a strict adherence to ancient customs and more to do with a general discontent with the status quo,” Goldstein said. “And a never-ending search for truth; a quest fueled by the questions we ask and the answers we seek.”
Jews’ search does not end with the Seder meals. Goldstein said the ritual ends with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
“This is less a geo-political statement and more a call to action,” Goldstein said. “It gives voice to our cultural DNA, expressing dissatisfaction with the injustice and oppression that still exist in our world and the hope that the questions we ask of ourselves will inspire us to work toward repairing the world our faith requires of us,” he said.