Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, begins the evening Wednesday, April 5, 2023, and ends on Thursday, April 13. This important Jewish holiday commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage and celebrates their exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses to the promised land. These events, featured in the biblical Book of Exodus, are covered, of course, in epic Hollywood films popular at this time of year, including director Cecil B. DeMille’s two legendary films, both called “The Ten Commandments” — (released in 1923 and 1956, respectively).
We spoke recently to Cantor Allen Leider, Director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Rodef Shalom, a Reform Jewish congregation in Falls Church. He told us of the traditional Passover seder, a meal in which different foods represent various aspects of when the Angel of Death “passed over” the houses of the Israelites to strike dead the first born of each Egyptian household (Exodus 12) and the exodus which ensured. These food items include, among other items, lamb, bitter herbs, matzo, egg, and wine, all symbolic of specific important ancient events as well as the joy and hardships of the time of the first Passover.
Cantor Leider also emphasized that the holiday, while seeped in antiquity and indeed linked to aspects of very ancient seasonal holidays, also is vibrant for today and evolves. Thus enters Rabbi Jeffery Saxe, who is leading a second night seder at Temple Rodef Shalom for the congregation. Rabbi Saxe tells Falls Church News-Press that “the Passover Seder is a family moment, usually done at home, and the second night Seder at Rodef Shalom is a gathering of the synagogue family.”
Rabbi Saxe continues: “The second night seder at Rodef Shalom is mostly adults, some families with children, and we have a really nice meal, with a seder conducted by one of our clergy. This year I am conducting the seder.” For the occasion, he will play guitar, being interested in folk music and a self-described James Taylor fan. There will be the singing of some traditional as well as modern songs—”some of them funny,” Rabbi Saxe tells us. As to Cantor Leider’s point that Passover continues to evolve, Rabbi Saxe adds: “I’ll include some social justice prayers into the usual ones.”
While the Passover Seder Cantor Leider and Rabbi Saxe describe had not taken place at press time, we close with a description of the Seder meal from poet Heinrich Heine’s novel fragment “The Rabbi of Bacharach” and its lyrical literary depiction of the seder as “a mixture of the legends of forefathers, wondrous tales of Egypt, disputed questions of theology, prayers, and festival songs. During this feast, there is a grand supper, and even during the reading there is at specified times tasting of the symbolical food […] of Passover bread [matzo], while four cups of red wine are drunk. Mournfully merry, seriously gay, and mysteriously secret as an old legend is the character of this nocturnal festival. The traditional Haggadah [liturgy] is read by the father, and now and then re-echoed in chorus by the hearers. It first thrills the inmost soul as with a shudder, then calms it as a lullaby, and again startles it so suddenly.” (Adapted from Charles Godfrey Leland and Paul Bernard Thomas, trans.)