In the cold rain and high winds last Friday, a group of children and families found warmth around an outdoor fire at the Chabad Jewish Center of Solon, where the burning of the chametz took place just before Passover.
Within the fire were small pieces of leavened bread, forbidden for consumption during the eight-day holiday that began at sundown on March 27 and ends at sundown on Sunday.
“It’s all about family,” Rabbi Zushe Greenberg said of the meaning of Passover, which is one of the major Jewish holidays and represents liberation of the Jewish slaves from bondage in ancient Egypt.
Passover is also one of the most favored holidays among the Jewish people, the rabbi continued.
“It’s very different from the others,” he said.
While every Jewish holiday is about family, Passover is unique in that it begins at home around the table with the ritual Seder recounting the story of the exodus and meaning of the holiday complete with a dinner of ceremonial food. Seders are conducted for the first and second nights of Passover.
“There is so much love in the room” at that time, Rabbi Greenberg said. “This is something that remains with you the rest of your life.”
As a child, Rabbi Greenberg said his fondest Passover memories are being with his parents and grandparents in a small apartment in Israel, packed with people.
“It is the best memory,” he said. “For every Jew, the best memory is of the Seder.”
During the Seder, all worries and stress are set aside, Rabbi Greenberg noted. “The sense of family is amazing.”
Traditional parts of the Passover Seder meal include charoset, a sweet mix of apples, cinnamon, wine and nuts, as well as horseradish and the unleavened matzo. Leavened bread is among the foods prohibited during the holiday.
Following the burning of the chametz last Friday, children took part in a Passover program that was a Junior Iron Chef competition including various charoset recipes. Teams were broken up at various tables and ingredients were placed in a basket in the center.
“It is really special to my family,” Solon resident Eden Cohen, 8, said of Passover. Eden said her family was going to her grandmother’s house for both Saturday and Sunday’s Seder meals.
“We act out the 10 plagues,” her sister Maya, 10, added of the afflictions cast on ancient Egypt before the pharaoh agreed to free the slaves.
Rabbi Greenberg added that charoset is a reminder of the clay for the bricks for building made by the Jews in Egypt. It is used to sweeten the horseradish brought to the Seder.
In addition to matzo, hard boiled eggs are served to represent spring, and four glasses of wine are consumed during the Seder ceremony.
Families read from the Seder text called the Haggadah, which means “telling,” the rabbi explained. During the home service, the youngest child traditionally asks four questions about Passover each starting with, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
“By reading the story, that is basically the answer,” Rabbi Greenberg said.
The answers explain why only unleavened bread is eaten during the holiday, why bitter herbs are consumed, why herbs are dipped in saltwater and bitter herbs in charoset during the Seder and why reclining is allowed.
“On the Seder we feel like free people,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “It’s all about forgetting our worries, stress and anxiety.
The home Seder is significant. “On Passover, every Jewish home is the temple,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “It’s about the whole family coming together and the security that a child feels.
“It is the secret of Jewish survival,” he said.