A time of uni ty

Children learn Jewish history and traditions as they prepare for the Seder meal at Passover

For weeks, the children practiced their Passover parts at Hebrew preschool at the Chabad House of Northern Nevada. Their father, Chabad’s rabbi Mendel Cunin, will quiz them on their understanding of the holiday.

“Why do we eat matzo on Passover?” he will ask the children at the Seder table.

In unison, the youngsters will answer: “It’s for when the Jews left the slavery of Egypt they had no time to bake bread. They took raw dough. Baked it in the hot desert sun into crackers called matzo.”

“Why do we eat bitters at our Seder?”

“It reminds us of the bitter times of the pharaoh and how he treated the Jewish people.”

“Why do we dip our food twice?”

“We dip into bitter herbs to remind us how hard the Jewish slaves worked in Egypt. We dip parsley into salt water because it reminds us that new life will grow and salt reminds us of the tears of Jewish slaves.”

“Why do we lean on a pillow?”

“To be comforted because we were once slaves, but now we are free.”

The Jewish community in Northern Nevada begins its observance of Passover on Monday night. Passover is the eight-day observance commemorating exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt, between 1400 and 1200 B.C.E. The first two nights of the holiday are celebrated with meals called Seders.

A Seder meal includes symbolic foods — a lamb shank, matzo, eggs, vegetables, and bitter herbs, which is horseradish, to remind Jews of bitter bondage. During the symbolic meal, each person drinks four glasses of wine or grape juice. These are consumed during the Passover story, or the Haggadah. An extra glass of wine is set out for the prophet Elijah, who is said to be a guest at every Seder.

“It is traditional to ask children the four questions,” MendelCunin said. “The questions have great spiritual significance to our history. Passover is a wonderful holiday in raising interest in Jewish history and faith. It awakens the faith, the commitment and the rich history of the Jewish nation that keeps us together.”

Denise Lafferty said she looks forward to spending Seders with her husband, Michael, and children, Spenser, 4, and Lauren, 20 months.

“Passover is such a time of unity,” Lafferty said. “It’s a wonderful, precious holiday to be with the family, to enjoy and understand our heritage, history and culture. “It’s great to watch the children learn about the past so they can carry it on into the future.”

For Moshe and hundreds of other Jewish children in Northern Nevada, Passover is a time of family, celebration, special foods, songs and customs.

“It’s about eating a lot of matzo, too,” Moshe said.

During the course of the Seder evenings, the Cunin triplets most likely will sing their favorite Passover song to the tune of London Bridge.

“Moses freed the Jewish slaves, Jewish slaves, Jewish slaves, Moses freed the Jewish slaves, on Passover,” said Chana. “I love that song.”

The story of Passover

In the weeks leading up to the holiday, Northern Nevada’s Jewish children were busy learning of the Passover story.

According to the Book of Exodus, Moses, a simple Jewish shepherd, was instructed by God to go to the pharaoh and demand the freedom of his people.

Moses’ plea of “Let my people go” was ignored. Moses warned the pharaoh that God would send severe punishment on Egypt. Pharaoh would not listen.

In response, God sent 10 horrible plagues on the people of Egypt: blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, blight, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the slaying of the first born.

Pharaoh remained unconvinced and refused to let the people go — until the last plague.

In order to get pharaoh to free the Israelites, God intended to kill the first-born son of both man and beast. To protect themselves, the Israelites were told to mark their dwellings with lamb’s blood so that God could identify and “pass over” their homes.

The Pharaoh’s son died and he finally agreed to release the slaves.

The Israelites left their homes in a rush and didn’t have time to bake bread, so they packed raw dough with them on their journey.

“That’s why we eat so much matzo during Passover,” said Moshe.