Passover will be observed in Jewish homes and synagogues, starting tonight, for eight days by Conservative and Orthodox Jews and seven days by Reform Jews.

TRADITION: Considered the oldest Jewish holiday, its origins are probably twofold--the anniversary of the biblically described Exodus of Israelites out of Egypt and ancient spring celebrations of the barley harvest. The name Passover, pesach in Hebrew, refers to the “passing over,” or sparing, of the houses of Israelites during the God-wrought plague on the firstborn living in Egypt (Exodus 12:12-13). It is used in the Bible to refer to the sacrifice of a lamb on the eve of Exodus. The weeklong festival that followed is called in the Bible (Leviticus 23:5-6) “the festival of unleavened bread.”

OBSERVANCES: The ritual seder meals, celebrated on the first night(s) of Passover, include food, drink and readings from the haggada, the narrative of the centuries-ago flight from slavery in Egypt. The unleavened bread, matzo, is said to be a reminder of the hasty departure. It is essentially a ritual conducted at home in family gatherings, but seders are also held at synagogues and other community settings.