Archive April 2019

Understanding Jewish Holidays: Passover

By: Ellie Baden

Whenever someone asks me about Jewish holidays, my favorite descriptor for nearly every one is to say “they tried to kill us, we survived, now let’s eat.” Indeed, persecution, endurance, and food are defining traits of many of our religious stories and traditions. One holiday that this is especially true for is Passover.

Growing up, whenever someone asked me what my favorite holiday was, one of my first answers was always Passover. In my family, Passover meant going over to my grandparent’s house, playing with my cousins, and eating a huge, home cooked meal with my family. We told stories of the ancient Jews, sang songs, and—my personal favorite activity—participated in the Matzah hunt where each of my cousins and I would race around the house looking for a piece of unleavened bread knowing that the winner would receive a prize. However, as I grew older, I gained a greater understanding and appreciation for Passover and all that it represents to the Jewish people.

Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, honors the Jewish exodus from the land of Egypt where we were enslaved. It is celebrated through a meal, called the Seder which literally translates to “order” in reference to the specific order each item is eaten. Each family member is given a Haggadah, which is essentially the book that contains the prayers and instructions for the night.

We begin with the first glass of wine (or sparkling juice for the kids), and the washing of the hands (although not completely accurate to the tradition, my family will usually pass around a scented hand sanitizer to complete this ritual). Then we go over the significance of each item on the Seder plate, the round plate that contains each of the symbols of the night. The parsley that gets dipped in salt water represents the tears of the Jewish slaves. The Matzah represents the bread that was not done baking when the Jews rushed out of Egypt. The bitter herbs represent the bitterness of slavery. The haroset, a combination of apples, nuts, and wine, represent the mortar and the bricks used by the slaves in Egypt. The shank bone represents the offerings the ancient Israelites made to the Temple. The egg represents life. And in my family, the orange represents the progress of society as women are now part of the rabbinate.

We then tell the story of how the ancient Jews, led by Moses, left Egypt and slavery. We hear about the 10 plagues God cast on the Egyptians after the Pharaoh refused to free the slaves. We hear about the splitting of the Red Sea and how the Jews rejoiced when they reached the other side.

Around this point in the night, the youngest person at the table who can read Hebrew asks the traditional four questions: why we do not eat leavened bread, why we only eat bitter herbs, why we dip the parsley into the salt water twice, and why we recline on pillows during the meal. The answers to these questions exemplify the reason we celebrate: because we are free to do so.

To me, Passover is the perfect example of what a Jewish holiday should be. Family, tradition, and the reminder that “they tried to kill us, we survived, now let’s eat”.

Understanding Christian Holidays: Easter

What comes to mind when you think of Easter? The Easter bunny, Easter eggs or Easter Mass?

I am a Catholic high school student, and I think Easter is one of the most important feast days in my faith’s liturgical year. Many of our beliefs depend on our faith in Christ’s resurrection and ascension into Heaven which is celebrated at Easter.

Easter is preceded by a 40-day-long season called Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday. The date of Easter changes each year because Easter for Catholics is based off of the spring equinox. This year, Easter falls on April 21.

Lent is a time for Christians to reflect on their relationships with God and others. I try to give up a type of food or habit during lent as a sacrifice to God. One of the readings during Lent is about Jesus fasting and being tempted in the desert for 40 days. As you can see, 40 is an important number in our tradition.

One of my favorite parts about Lent is the focus on social justice and giving what you have to the less fortunate. Through my school and church, I participate in the Catholic Relief Service (CRS) Rice Bowl national program to support local communities as well as communities in need around the globe.

Towards the end of Lent, the Easter Triduum begins on Holy Thursday evening. Holy Thursday commemorates Jesus’s last supper with his apostles (his 12 main followers). This day reminds Christians of the first time the Eucharist was celebrated. Christ also washed the feet of the apostles at the last supper, and many churches have ritual feet washings to remind people to serve others.

On Good Friday, Christians remember Jesus’ death on the cross. The Good Friday celebration includes venerating or showing reverence to the cross. On Good Friday and all Fridays in Lent, my family and other Catholics abstain from eating meat.

On Holy Saturday after sundown, Christians celebrate the Easter Vigil, which celebrates Jesus’s resurrection. Christ’s resurrection is a joyous event, which gives Christians hope for everlasting life and happiness in Heaven, united with God. The Easter Vigil is longer than a typical mass, often lasting over two hours. However, the Easter Vigil includes many important rites, including lighting the Paschal Candle and baptizing new members of the church. The newly baptized also receive the sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion. There is also mass on Easter Sunday.

In my family, we usually attend mass on Easter Sunday with our entire family, and we have lunch and an Easter egg hunt with my young cousins afterwards. My cousins are excited to see what candy and treats the Easter bunny brought them.

Easter Sunday begins the Easter season, which last fifty days until Pentecost Sunday. Mass during the Easter season is more joyous than Lenten masses. Songs of praise and alleluia are sung. The mass also begins with blessing water and the priest sprinkling it over everyone in the congregation.

One of my favorite passages read during the Easter season has a message of peace and being open to others that resonates with our interfaith community. The passage is Luke 24: 13-35. In this passage, two of Jesus’s disciples meet the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus and do not recognize him. The disciples invite Jesus to stay with them, and they recognize him in the breaking of the bread. I think the message is to see God in others, which can include people of different faiths. As a leader at Peace Camp 2, I certainly saw God working through all the leaders and participants welcoming one another, being open to sharing about their faith, and listening attentively.

Another common occurrence in readings during the Easter season is Jesus greeting his apostles or others by saying “peace be with you.” This greeting reminds me of celebrating interfaith peace or salaam, shalom, peace.

During the Easter Triduum and Easter season, I join other Christians in preparing for and celebrating our belief in Christ’s resurrection. To me, Easter also serves as a reminder to treat others as Jesus would—serving others, welcoming them, and greeting them with messages of peace.