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Home / bitter herbs

More in-person Seders for Passover expected


The eight-day celebration of Passover began at sundown Friday with more in-person Seders than the past two years when various congregations and organizations organized virtual Seders in response to coronavirus-related restrictions.

Community Seders were scheduled at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the JEM Community Center in Beverly Hills, featuring a gourmet Passover dinner, original handmade Shmura matzah and four cups of kosher wine.

The Seder is described by Rabbi Hertzel Illulian, the center’s founder, as “English-friendly as well as French, Spanish and Hebrew, so everyone can feel welcome.”

The cost is $100 for adults and $50 for children.

“No one will be turned down due to lack of funds,” Illulian said.

Reservations can be made by calling 310-772-0000 or online at www.jemcommunitycenter.com/passover-seder-los-angeles-beverly-hills.

Passover commemorates the time between the Exodus from Egypt on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Nissan and the parting of the Red Sea seven days later to allow the fleeing Israelites to make their getaway.

A number of contemporary scholars, including Jewish historians and archaeologists, believe the story of the Exodus is apocryphal and that the Israelites were never among the peoples subjugated by the ancient Egyptians.

However, regardless of any historical debate, most rabbis believe it should not obscure the themes — faith, freedom and redemption — inherent in the biblical tale.

According to the book of Exodus, the enslaved Israelites used the blood of lambs to mark their doors so the Angel of Death would “pass over” their homes and instead slay the firstborn sons of Egyptians — the 10th and most horrific of the plagues that finally persuaded the pharaoh to accede to Moses’ demand: “Let my people go.”

During the Seder, people drink four cups of wine or grape juice, symbolizing the promises that God made to the Israelites, including deliverance from bondage. Also as part of the ritual, a child traditionally asks the four questions of the Seder, which means order.

The introductory question of “Why is this night different from all other nights?” is followed by “Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either bread or matzo, but on this night we eat matzo?” “Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?” “Why is it on all other nights we do not dip even once, but on this night we dip twice?” and “Why is it that on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat in a reclining position?”

The purpose of the questions is to spark discussion and learning, as teaching the story of the Exodus to children is one of the most important elements of the Seder. The meal is accompanied by reading from the Haggadah, or “narration” book, which tells the story of the Israelites’ deliverance from bondage.

The Seder features six symbolic foods, including matzo, a cracker-like unleavened bread symbolizing the Exodus from ancient Egypt when there was not enough time to let the bread rise.

While Passover rituals vary in different parts of the world, Jews are traditionally not permitted to eat or possess any foods made with wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oats.

Bitter herbs, often horseradish, represent the bitterness of slavery; parsley dipped in saltwater symbolizes the tears the Israelites shed in bondage; and an apple, nut, spice and wine mixture called charoset represents what the Torah, the Jewish holy scripture, describes as the mortar used by Jewish slaves to build Egyptian edifices.

The holiday is observed for seven days in Israel, with one Seder, and eight days outside Israel, with two. The difference is that people in ancient times who lived far from Jerusalem could not know when a new month under the Hebrew lunar calendar had been officially declared and, in turn, could not be sure of the exact date.

“The celebration of Passover — the songs, the food, the stories — brings us together and reminds us no matter the hardships we face, there is always light at the end of the tunnel,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a video message released on Twitter.

“As families and loved ones gather this year for this holiday, there will be many prayers for peace in our world. Prayers for the deliverance for the people of Ukraine who are facing a terror we’d hope to relegate to our history.”

Garcetti is Los Angeles’ first elected Jewish mayor. Bernard Cohn was appointed acting mayor in 1878 by his fellow members of what was then known as the Common Council following the death of Frederick A. MacDougal. Cohn was defeated by J.R. Toberman and was mayor for 15 days.

In his Passover message, President Joe Biden said, “Together again, we will commemorate the Exodus of the enslaved Israelites from Egypt. And we will retell a timeless story about that most human quest for freedom. Redemption. Faith. Hope. And, ultimately, deliverance.

“A story that has brought solace and a sense of promise to Jewish communities throughout their history as they endured acts of persecution, pogroms and even genocide. And one that inspired and empowered oppressed peoples everywhere who, even in their deepest despair, sensed that their own liberation was not beyond reach.

“This Passover, we hold in our hearts the people of Ukraine and those around the world whose heroic stand against tyranny inspires us all. The enduring spirit of this holiday continues to teach us that with faith, the driest desert can be crossed, the mightiest sea can be split and hope never stops marching towards the promised land.”

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