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Mount Kisco Rabbi Explains Passover's Meaning

MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. — The Jewish holiday of Passover is a celebration of the exodus of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, and the traditional feast is the Seder, which begins this Friday and lasts for seven days.

“The whole purpose is to tell the story to the children,” said Rabbi Aaron Brusso of Bet Torah, a synagogue in Mount Kisco. “The goal is not to remember some happening in history but for the story to have an impact on how we live our everyday lives.”

The tradition of the Seder, the Hebrew word for “order,” involves assigning people to read different parts of the Haggadah, which is the traditional text.

As the Haggadah is read, different ritual foods are consumed at different points in the story. The Seder is meant to be educational and interactive, and is designed to address multiple ages and multiple intelligences, Brusso said.

Many Jewish holidays are celebrated by eating certain foods, however, “Passover is about what we don’t eat,” said Rabbi Fred Schwalb of the Hebrew Congregation of Somers.

When the Jews escaped from Egypt, around 1300 BC, “they were in a real hurry,” said Schwalb. “They didn’t even stop to bake bread.” Since they were only able to make unleavened bread during the escape, unleavened products like matzo have become a part of the Passover tradition.

Other Passover foods include bitter herbs as a reminder of those bitter years; green vegetables and eggs as symbols of spring and rebirth; charoset, a mixture of apples, walnuts and honey, symbolizing the mortar the Hebrew slaves used in their labors; and salt water to symbolize the tears of the ancestors.

During the Seder, a symbolic place is laid for Elijah the Prophet, who helped the Jews defeat the Pharaoh’s army. The Seder guests open the door of the house to invite Elijah in for a cup of wine.

“Ideally (Passover) encourages us to ask questions of our society and our lives,” Brusso said, and to connect themes of slavery, freedom and justice.

Current events can illustrate these issues, he said, like the Supreme Court’s hearings on universal healthcare, a topic that provokes questions about preserving personal freedoms versus assuring the protection of the interests of all.

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