By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
While the majority of Mexicans commemorated Easter on Sunday, April 17, and members of the local Islamic community are currently observing the holy month of Ramadan, which this year runs from April 2 through May 1, Mexico’s Jews this week celebrate Passover, or Pesach, which began on the night of Friday, April 15, with a traditional festive family meal called a Seder.
On Friday, Jews near and far gathered around the Seder table to mark the beginning of the eight-day holiday, which celebrates the freeing of Jewish slaves from Egyptian rule 3,000 years ago.
The Seder is a ritual feast that is held on the first and second nights of Passover and includes a ceremony of prayers, blessings and readings recalling the Exodus story of Moses and the Pharaoh.
“The Exodus from Egypt has special meaning to every person who is concerned about oppression,” explained Rabbi Yossef Mayzlesh, head of the Chabad Lubavitch congregation in Mexico City.
“The Seder is a way for each participant to personally experience his own fight for freedom and to better understand the oppression of others.”
Mayzlesh went on to say that the Passover Seder is a time to think about what we can do to help make the lives of others better.
During the Seder, foods symbolizing different aspects of the Exodus story are eaten.
The word Seder actually means “order,” and each item in the menu must be eaten in a specific order.
A special book, the Haggadah, is used as a guide through the Seder.
The word Haggadah means “the telling” of the story or narrative.
Usually, the head of the household serves as the leader of the Seder, directing the reading of the Haggadah.
Everyone present participates, including the youngest person, who recites four questions.
The Haggadah tells the story of Passover through answers to the questions.
Throughout the Seder, participants sit with a pillow behind them.
This signifies the freedom obtained from the exodus, in that all free people sit in a relaxed manner.
The most important food item in the Passover Seder is the matzah, unleavened bread, which is eaten throughout the meal.
Three matzahs are placed on the Seder table and covered or placed in a cloth container.
As a reminder of the lamb that was ritually slaughtered and then eaten by Jewish families on the eve of Passover in Biblical times, a roasted shank bone is placed on the Seder plate in the middle of the table.
Horseradish, or maror, are the bitter herbs which serve as a reminder of the hardships of slavery, and charosis, a sweet mixture of chopped apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine, symbolizes the mortar made to hold together the bricks the Jews produced while slaves in Egypt.
A root vegetable, which can be a potato or carrot, represents the back-breaking work the Jews were forced to perform.
Karpas is a green vegetable, usually parsley or celery, used to symbolize spring and renewal. Before being eaten, the karpas is dipped in salt water, which represents the tears of the Jews in Egypt.
A roasted egg is also placed on the Seder plate as a symbol of the burnt offerings made by the Israelites in ancient times.
A special cup of wine is placed on the Seder table for the prophet Elijah.
According to Jewish tradition, Elijah is the messenger of God who will foretell the coming of the Messiah.
During the service, there is a time when the door of the house is opened and Elijah is “invited to enter.”
No leavened bread can be eaten during the entire eight days of Pesach.
In addition, other foods containing yeast or other leavening agents are forbidden during the eight-day season.
All such forbidden foods, called chometz, are removed from the home no later than the morning of the day Passover begins, and separate dishes, silverware and cooking utensils are customarily used during the celebration.
The Jewish holiday of Passover is observed for eight days each year beginning with the 15th day of the month of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar.
Passover commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery in approximately 1280 BCE and the resultant exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt.