- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Thousands of Jews across the D.C. area last night began celebrating Passover, an eight-day commemoration of the Exodus and freedom of the Israelites from ancient Egypt.

“There are so many people who find themselves down and out and the Passover story is the promise that God will lead us out of hardship and into freedom,” said Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of the National Synagogue in Northwest. “That’s why this is one of the great stories, probably the greatest story ever told.”

The story of Passover — or Pesach in Hebrew, which means “passing over” or “protection” — is chronicled in the biblical Book of Exodus.

According to the book, the prophet Moses was told by the Hebrew God Yahweh to go to Pharaoh Ramses II and demand the freedom of his people.

When Moses’ pleas were ignored, God unleashed a series of deadly plagues on the people of Egypt and sent the Angel of Death to kill the firstborn of every man and animal in Egypt to force the pharaoh to free the Jewish slaves.

The Jewish people were told to paint their doorways with lamb’s blood so that the angel would “pass over” their homes. Led by Moses, the Jews then fled the country in the middle of the night.

Jewish people celebrate the holiday, which began at sundown yesterday and ends at nightfall next Thursday, by eating meals called Seders on the first two nights of Passover.

The meals include bitter herbs and unleavened bread, marking the bitterness of slavery and the Jewish people’s quick, overnight exodus from Egypt.

“It’s the only holiday where all the family gets together and it’s a changeover — you can’t go out and eat, or do anything outside of the family,” said Lea Mendolsohn of Northwest. “My fondest memories of childhood are of Passover … and I love the food.”

Jewish people also retell the story of their liberation during the Seder and celebrate with stories, songs and prayers.

Last night, the National Synagogue held a free Seder that 225 persons were expected to attend.

Preparations for the holiday began last week, when the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington hosted a Passover storytelling program in Rockville.

“It’s a time to reflect,” said Shaw Fodor of Northwest, whose family joined another family last night for a Seder. “Even in good times, we should always remember where we come from and be grateful for what we have.”

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