- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

At sundown yesterday, Jewish people throughout the metropolitan area and around the world began celebrating Passover an eight-day holy period involving symbols and gatherings commemorating the exodus of Jewish slaves from ancient Egypt.
In the hours leading up to the Seder, the holiday's opening ritual, rabbis from major Jewish congregations in the District said Passover is special this year perhaps more so than any other year given the recent increase in turmoil in the Middle East.
"This year, like no other year in my memory, the Jewish people are under attack and … Passover has to have special meaning … because our yearning for freedom has not yet been filled," said Rabbi Daniel Zemel, of Temple Micah on Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest.
News of the violence filters in every day. Yesterday, a Palestinian blew himself up in the dining room of an Israeli resort as guests gathered for a Seder meal. The attack killed at least 19 persons and wounded more than 140.
"All of us in the world since September 11 and since the myriad of terrorist attacks in the Middle East understand the value of freedom more than ever," said Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, of the Washington Hebrew Congregation on Macomb Street in Northwest. The 150-year-old organization is the largest congregation of Reform Jews in the city.
"This year there is a great hope that the prayer that ends our Seder will come true. It is a prayer for peace in Israel," Mr. Lustig said in a telephone interview moments before the Seder began.
The word "passover" derives from a biblical account that says God intended to force the Egyptian pharaoh, Ramses II, who had enslaved Israelites, to free them by killing the first-born son in every house. Hebrew prophet Moses told Israelites to mark their doors with lamb's blood so God's wrath would pass by their homes, exempting them from the punishment.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said that although Passover is a Jewish holiday, "the story has been an inspiration for emancipation and liberation movements all through history. …"
"Many see Passover as a time to reflect on the plight of all peoples who are or who have been enslaved," the mayor told reporters yesterday at his weekly news briefing.
The most important event of the Passover celebration is the Seder. It includes a lavish meal with food items on the "Seder Plate," with each item representing different symbols from Jewish history.
"In my household, we are making the special addition of an olive to our Seder plate because the olive branch represents a state of peace," said Mr. Zemel. "This year we have to remind us we are not free until everyone is free, not free until there is peace in our homes and in our world."
The ultimate appetizer to begin the Seder is Haroseth, a beloved fruit-and-nut compote. The Haroseth represents the red mortar used to build the pyramids when the Jews were enslaved in Egypt.
During the Seder, a piece of horseradish or romaine lettuce is dipped in the Haroseth, or a dollop of the sweet spread is put on a piece of matzo, and served slathered with bitter herbs, which are today often in the form of fresh or bottled horseradish.
Seders are steeped in customs, including special rituals, plates and silverware.
Only Kosher foods are eaten. Matzo, a bread made without yeast, is one such item of great symbolic value. It is intended to remind Jews of the Israelites' hasty flight from Egypt which afforded little time for the bread to leaven.
Many parents view the Seder as a means to teach their children the religious and cultural symbols of freedom. The Haggadah meaning "the telling" is a part of the Seder that holds the most significance as it recounts the story of the escape from slavery.
Rabbi Fred Reiner, of Temple Sinai on Military Road in Northwest, pointed out that every Seder ends with the characteristic note: "Next year in Jerusalem. …"
"We feel the unity with Jews in Israel who are suffering fear and terrorism," he said. "For us, this year, the last line means we hope there will be peace in Jerusalem."

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