Passover message resounds today

Rabbis trace the origins of tradition forward to today

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For Rabbi Mendel Rosenblum of Chabad of the South Hills, Passover -- which begins at sundown Monday -- celebrates more than one kind of exodus.

"It is not only about ancient people fleeing Egypt, but a reminder that modern day people have the power to leave their own self-imposed limitations,'' he said.

He suggested that one attend a Seder, or ritual dinner, at which the story of the Passover is retold, psalms are read, and food items symbolize the Jews' enslavement and subsequent flight.

"We make history and traditions relevant, Rabbi Rosenblum of the Hassidic-run institution in Mt. Lebanon said. "We look at the story of how the enslaved people got out, and apply it to our own lives."

Passover commemorates the freedom of the Jews from slavery during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II.

According to the Torah, when the pharoah refused to free the Jewish slaves, God sent 10 plagues to punish him and his people.

The last plague was sent to kill the firstborn male in every Egyptian home. For death to "pass over" their homes, Jews splashed blood of a lamb on their door posts.

When the firstborn Egyptian males began dying, including the pharoah's child, the ruler allowed the Jews -- led by Moses -- to leave.

They fled so quickly that there was no time for the bread dough to rise. And, for that reason, flat unleavened bread, or matzo, is the primary symbol of Passover.

A Seder is a worship service and meal filled with symbolism, usually conducted by a family at home with guests. Leavened foods are avoided during the weeklong observance of Passover. The Seder plate contains foods symbolizing the ancient spring festival, sacrificial offerings from the days of the now-destroyed Temple and the bitterness of slavery.

Rabbi Rosenblum said focal points of a Seder include drinking wine or grape juice to celebrate newfound freedom and recitation of the Haggadah, a liturgy that details the story of the Exodus.

Worship services will be held at Chabad of the South Hills, which adheres to a traditional form of Judaism, at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and April 1 and 2.

"It makes me appreciate the freedom that I have, and it sensitizes me to suffering people around the world," Rabbi Chuck Diamond -- who just returned from Ukraine -- said about Passover.

He is rabbi at the Tree of Life-Or L'Simcha Congregation in Squirrel Hill.

Passover also is a cherished time of family and tradition that invokes memories of Seders with loved ones throughout our lifetimes, he said.

"Every year we take out our Haggadah, and every page has its wine stain, and every stain has its story," he said.

As a Conservative congregation, Tree of Life celebrates Passover for eight days, with services the first two full days and last two days, from 9:45 a.m. to noon.

As a Reform congregation, Rodef Shalom in Shadyside celebrates Passover for seven days, as stated in the original biblical commandment.

Rodef Shalom's Rabbi Aaron Bisno said the eight-day celebration harks back to ancient times when the Jewish calendar was set monthly, based on the moon.

Because getting word out to distant communities on specific holiday dates took time, Jews in those communities celebrated an extra day.

"We celebrate our freedom, as well as the opportunity to free ourselves from modern day enslavement, such as patterns of behavior, old modes of thoughts, addictions, relationships that are no longer healthy, and more," he said of the holiday.

Passover observances at Rodef Shalom include a congregational Seder at 6:15 p.m. Monday and a 10:30 a.m. Tuesday worship service in collaboration with Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill.

On April 1, Temple Sinai will reciprocate with a 10:30 a.m. joint service with Rodef Shalom at Temple Sinai.

Rabbi Ron Symons of Temple Sinai called Passover "the birth story of freedom for all the world."

"Throughout history, it has inspired freedom movements such as Zionism, and the U.S. civil rights movement,'' he said. "Each year we celebrate Passover there is a clarion call to release the bonds of slavery, whether physical, economic, social, racial, et cetera."

"It is a fantastic opportunity to be with family, and to transform our dining room tables into a storytelling gala: from our own life experience and from the big story of the Jewish people," he said. "Passover is a storytelling and culinary festival that belongs in the home in which every family has the opportunity to lead itself from slavery to freedom.''

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Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:


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