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Saturday, July 20, 2024


On the evening of Wednesday, April 19, members of the Jewish community on St. Thomas will gather at the Old Stone Farmhouse for the annual Seder, the ritual meal that begins the week-long celebration of Passover.
It is an experience they will share with Jews the world over, as the faithful gather in homes or communal places with family and friends to celebrate the start of the Festival of Freedom, which recalls the exodus of the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.
Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, marks the night of vigil when according to scripture the Angel of Death "passed over" the homes of the Israelites but not those of the Egyptians, finally persuading the Pharaoh to let the long-oppressed Israelites go free.
The week begins with the Seder, a meal in which symbolic foods are eaten in accordance with ancient rites. The most prominent of these is matzah, an unleavened bread. "Because the Israelites were forced to leave Egypt in haste, their bread had no time to rise," a release from the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas states. In remembrance of their suffering, Jews do not eat any foods made with leavening during Passover week.
Other symbolic Seder foods include a shankbone of lamb, representing the animal sacrifices once offered in the Temple; bitter herbs or horseradish root, in remembrance of the bitterness of slavery; greens such as parsley, suggestive of the spring season; and charoset, a mixture of apples, nuts, and wine symbolizing the mortar used by the enslaved Israelites to make bricks for Pharaoh's cities. The meal also includes four cups of wine that recall promises God made to the Israelites to free them from Egyptian bondage.
The ritual, with singing, reflection and prayer, is described in the Haggadah, a manual used at the Seder. The word comes from the Hebrew root which means "to tell a story." Jews are to recount the ancient story of their liberation to their children each year so that the message of Passover is never forgotten.
"Passover is an important Jewish holiday because of its message of freedom for all people," the Hebrew Congregation release states. It is the custom to invite non-Jews to the Seder to share the message of liberation, hope and faith that is central to the celebration.
Non-members are welcome to attend the congregational Seder on April 19. For members, the cost is $15 for those under the age of 13 and $30 for others; for non-members, it is $25 and $50, respectively. Reservations are required and may be made by calling the synagogue office at 774-4312.

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