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Passover: A Pilgrimage Holiday of Many Names

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Celebrated from April 18-26 this year, Pesach – or Passover – is a major holiday in Jewish tradition. It is one of the three pilgrimage holidays, along with Sukkot and Shavuot. These are the holidays on which the Jewish people would come to Jerusalem in ancient times, when the Holy Temple was there, and would offer animal and grain sacrifices. Since the destruction of the Temple, a few of the holiday traditions have been retained, without the pilgrimage and the sacrifices, and many new traditions have been added.


Pesach commemorates the story of Moses from Exodus 12, when God set ten plagues upon the Egyptians to convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites. The tenth plague was the killing of the firstborn sons. However, the Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb, and upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord passed over these homes, hence the term “Passover.”


As Exodus 12:13 says, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and there shall no plague be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.”


Pesach is also called the Holiday of Freedom, and this aspect of the holiday is emphasized in the rituals and prayers: The exodus from slavery to freedom symbolizes physical and spiritual redemption and man’s aspiration to be free.


Another important element of this holiday is family togetherness. On the eve of the holiday, called Seder night, due to the ceremonial Seder meal that is celebrated that evening, whole extended families gather around one table. It is also an important Jewish precept to invite others who have no family with whom to celebrate the holiday.


Another name for Pesach is the Holiday of Unleavened Bread, named so because of the observance of eating no foods containing fermented grain products, just as the children of Israel had to eat because of fleeing from Egypt in haste.

One more name for Pesach is the Holiday of Spring, marking the season in which Pesach is celebrated.


The first day of Pesach and similarly the last day (the “seventh day of Pesach” or “second holiday”) are holy rest days on which productive work is forbidden. Almost all Israeli businesses are closed on these days. The intermediate days (Chol ha-Mo’ed) are half-holiday, half regular weekday. Many offices and businesses are only open half a day (usually the morning), and many Israeli families go on vacations or day-trips out of town. Since this period is also a vacation period from school, take into account that many vacation sites will be full of Israeli families.


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