Passover in Israel: A Time of Remembrance

April 10, 2013

This post was written by Sapir Yarden, Georgetown School of Foreign Service Class of 2015, who serves as co-president of the Jewish Student Association. 

This year I had the pleasure of spending Passover with my family in Israel. Passover is the Jewish holiday recognizing the Israelites' liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt. While leaving Egypt, the Jews were in a rush and did not have time for the dough they had to rise, so to celebrate we do not eat leavened goods, called hametz, for seven days, and instead we eat matzah, which is similar to a cracker. On the first night we come together for the seder, the traditional meal in which we read the story of our people in a book called the Haggadah.

The seder begins with a few requirements. Kadesh is the blessing over wine, in which we also bless God who brought us to this time, freeing us from oppression. Karpas, when we dip potatoes in salt water that represents the tears of the slaves. Yahatz, the ritual of breaking the middle matzah of the ones on the table and wrapping the larger half in a napkin. This napkin, called the afikomen, is then hidden somewhere in the house for the children in the family to find only after telling the story, called Magid

During the seder we ask four questions. The youngest person at the table will sing a song called "Ma Nishtana," which asks why this night is different from any other. My seven-year-old brother did a wonderful job remembering all the words even though his Hebrew is not that great. We claim that "in every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Egypt"; therefore we ask the same questions every year, on that night, to remember the hardships of our ancestors. 

This was the first time in four years, since my return to living in America, that I spent the holiday with my family who lives in Israel. The seder is one of the most popular meals from Jewish holidays and is known as a celebration of the Jews' emancipation. I enjoyed being with the people I love: my parents, siblings, cousins, and 86-year-old grandfather, who was so energized that night, to commemorate the strength of the Israelites while reading, eating, drinking, and singing. Every year, however, we understand the story differently. 

Being in Israel has reminded me the importance of freedom and safety and the power of liberation. As a people who have experienced slavery and oppression, we must remember to treat others as we would want to be treated. As we approached Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day, we mentioned that the number of survivors is decreasing. It is our generation’s responsibility to educate the world on the fight of good versus evil, and promise that no community should ever feel such hatred again. This is both significant in our day-to-day lives, and in the larger context of conflicts around the world. We must struggle with the definition of freedom as individuals and as people. It is no secret that the Middle East is a contentious, heated region that raises questions of freedom and liberty. In the conflict, we must advocate for human rights and justice and share respect for future generations to ensure a world where good has triumphed evil.

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Passover in Israel: A Time of Remembrance