Preschoolers at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County in Irvine got ready to celebrate Passover. The Jewish holiday will begin at sundown April 18, and the preschoolers were busy Thursday using rolling pins and learning how to make matzo.
Passover commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. Its name refers to the passage in the Book of Exodus (12:11) when God “passed over” the houses of the Israelites during the 10th plague. The overarching themes of Passover are redemption and freedom.
It is traditional on Passover to only eat unleavened bread. When Pharaoh freed the Israelites, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread to rise. In commemoration, for the duration of Passover (which lasts eight days) no leavened bread is eaten. Matzo (MAH-tzah), flat unleavened bread, is the primary symbol of the holiday.
The central ritual of Passover is the Seder, a carefully choreographed ritual meal that takes place either in the home or in the community. A number of symbolic foods are laid out on the table, of which the most important is the matzo.
The Passover Seder is on the first and second night of Passover, though some only participate in a Seder on the first night. During the Seder, participants recount the story of the Exodus. It’s a hands-on, family-friendly, adaptable and interactive celebration. Traditionally the youngest child is given the honor of reciting the Four Questions which introduces the telling of the Passover story.
“We explore Passover at our school, not only because it is an important holiday in the Jewish calendar, but also because it offers a rich experience for children in our school,” said Peter Blair, director of early childhood education at the Merage JCC. “We invite the children to explore the holiday through the richness of the senses, smelling the aromas, tasting the foods and hearing the stories of the exodus from Egypt. By making matzo in our [matzo bakery] the children literally have a ‘hands-on’ experience in what is involved in making matzo.”
SHEILA WITZLING is marketing director at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County.