MANATEE -- Passover, which begins at sunset Monday, commemorates the freeing of the Jews from slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago.
It continues through April 26 with an array of festivities, such as Seder dinner, blessings, prayer, story-telling, skits and socializing, says Rabbi Barbara Aiello, rabbinic adviser for Congregation Ner Tamid.
The Bradenton congregation, whose name translates to “eternal light,” is observing its seventh Passover.
“Passover is, according to all Jewish research and religious studies and general questions, the most celebrated of all the Jewish holidays, and also the best-loved by most people,” said Aiello.
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Passover, a Hebrew word that means “order,” refers to the order of the prayers, blessings, readings and symbolic food in telling the story of the Jews’ frantic exodus from Egypt, where they had been captives.
“It’s memorable, it’s joyful, a way for people to come together,” the rabbi explained. “Even the most secular love the Passover Seder because it brings families together, people have many warm memories and it’s such a compelling story.
“The idea of freedom is so important.”
Passover begins with candle-lighting, and then celebrants will break matzah, an unleavened bread, to remind them of the first Passover.
The Passover story tells of an appeal by Moses and Aaron to the Egyptian pharaoh to allow the Jews to leave Egypt. The pharaoh refused.
As punishment, God inflicted successive plagues, culminating with the death of the firstborn child of each Egyptian family, according to the Bible.
The Angel of Death “passed over” the Jews because God had instructed them to slaughter a lamb, roast it, and mark their doors with its blood.
Finally, the Pharaoh relented, and Moses and Aaron ran back to the Jews and said, “OK, we can go,” but the women complained because they were making bread and it hadn’t had time to rise, Aiello said.
So they took it with them. Today, Passover observers eat unleavened bread in remembrance.
“It’s a feast of the unleavened bread, to remind us we left in a hurry with the bread that did not have time to rise,” said Aiello. “Because nothing in life is more important than freedom.”
The holiday is also celebrated with a festive meal called Seder.
“Passover is a traditional meal with traditional, symbolic foods,” she said.
The congregation’s Seder dinner is slated for 5:30 p.m. Monday at Lakeside South Clubhouse, 3817 40th Ave. W., Bradenton.
Members and friends are invited to enjoy dishes including beef brisket, chicken and matzah ball soup, according to Rena Morano, the congregation’s service leader and education director.
Two older gentlemen will be special guests this year at the Seder: Al Greenberg, 99, and Maurice Halpern, 100.
“We have infants and our elderly guests, and everybody in between,” Aiello said.