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"For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove the leaven from your homes ... you shall guard the unleavened bread, because on this very day I will take you out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day for yo


Pesach, known in English as Passover, is one of the most commonly observed Jewish holidays. It is a great family time where families or communities gather together, enjoy the marvellous Pesach food, sing, pray and ask “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

What's the history?
The primary observances of Pesach are related to the Exodus from Egypt after generations of slavery when Moses approached the Pharoah and implored him to “Let my people go”. Of course this took time, and 10 plagues later the Pharoah was finally persuaded and the journey of the children of Israel through the desert for 40 years began. This story is told in Exodus, Ch. 1-15. 

Pesach begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan. The name "Pesach" means to pass through, to pass over, to exempt or to spare. It refers to the fact that God "passed over" the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt. 

What do people do?
Probably the most significant observance related to Pesach involves avoiding chametz (leaven) throughout the holiday. This commemorates the fact that the Jews leaving Egypt were in a hurry, and did not have time to let their bread rise. Instead of bread we eat matzah - a sort of unleavened cracker, which is also jolly tasty and available in most supermarkets.

We stay bread-free for an 8 day period (or 7 here at Westminster), the highlight of which is definitely the special family Seder meal, which is filled with ritual to remind us of the significance of the holiday. For children the best part would be the “Hunt for the Afikoman”, when all of the young who are gathered disperse to locate a piece of matzah that was earlier hidden by whoever is leading the service. These Afikoman hunts tend to spur some very vivid childhood memories; of intense competition and jubilation for the winner!

How do we celebrate at Westminster Synagogue?
At Westminster Synagogue, as in Israel, it is our custom to have only one night’s Seder meal. That will take place on Friday 15th April at the synagogue. These are always very warm and lively occasions, and Rabbi Benji would be delighted to welcome you there. Remember to bring an item that symbolises freedom to you for the freedom plate. For more information and to let us know you are coming, click here.

Sat, 3 December 2022 9 Kislev 5783