Living in Houston and merely knowing about the Jewish Holiday of Pesach is not enough, not these days. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Houston is the fifth largest Jewish populated metropolitan area in the United States, with 45,640 Jews, which is about 0.8% of Houston’s entire population. Whether you need a Passover rundown, or you just want to impress your Jewish friends, there are some things you might want to know.
You will also need some information to combat the rush of Seder-goers over the eight days of Passover, here is what you need to know:
Passover is one of the major Jewish holidays (yes, even the reformed Jews go to Synagogue on this holiday). This holiday commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.
This year, Passover begins on Friday, April 22 and ends on Saturday, April 30, so if you have any Jewish friends who observe Passover, keep some matzah on you at all times!
Non-Jews often ask, “Why can’t you eat bread?” and to them, we say that we don’t eat bread to pay homage to the unleavened bread our ancestors ate on their way out of Egypt. However, it is not just bread that Jews cannot consume or even keep in their homes, it’s chametz, which includes any food or drink that contains wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelt, or anything which wasn’t guarded from leavening or fermentation.
Some people think all matzah, or unleavened bread, tastes the same, but if you ask any Jew living in Houston, they’ll tell you to go to Belden’s in Braeswood Square for anything and everything matzah and Passover related. Personally, egg matzah is a family favorite in my household, not only because it is lighter and fluffier, but it also tastes amazing with peanut butter! Belden’s has lots of delicious Passover treats, like chocolate covered macaroons or straight- up chocolate macaroons.
Another place one might visit on his or her way to Seder to pick up some delicious treats is the local favorite, Three Brothers Bakery. There are currently three locations of the bakery, but only the S. Braeswood location sells Passover goodies.
Another commonly asked question tends to be, “What is a Seder?" A Seder is similar to a feast, but is infused with many rituals and lots of family time. Unless you celebrate Passover, Seder traditions such as, reading from the Haggadah, eating bitter herbs, drinking four cups of wine, or reclining on pillows and singing songs throughout the evening, may seem odd.
The Haggadah is a service that describes the story of the Exodus from Egypt; it is read each year because it is our duty as Jews to recount to our children the story of how our people became free. Bitter herbs are eaten to recognize the bitter slavery endured by the Israelites, and the wine symbolizes a royal drink, to celebrate our newfound freedom. Songs of celebration and happiness scatter throughout the service.
Throughout the Seder, there are different acts we take part in, like drinking wine four different times, dipping karpas in salt water, and using our smallest finger to dip into wine and place on our plates as we recite each plague called onto the Egyptians.
After the meal and prayers are concluded, a glass of wine is poured for Elijah the Prophet, and the door is opened for him to come inside. The Torah describes Passover as a “guarded night,” because long ago, it is the night God protected the Jews from the plague which slew all Egyptian firstborns. Opening the door is an expression of our trust in God’s protection.
At the beginning of the meal, it is custom for the leader of the Seder to hide the afikomen. First, the larger section of the middle piece out of three matzah pieces is taken and wrapped in a white cloth–– this is the afikomen. The leader then hides the afikomen from the children. After dinner, the children search for the afikomen in exchange for a small prize, usually money.
Happy Pesach (Passover)!