We Experience It - April 5, 2023

We Experience It

Passover begins tonight with the first seder. The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland has this resource page and segmented community calendar for Passover. There are a multitude of programs and resources available to you to help you enjoy the holiday.



The story of the Exodus, shared tonight at our seder tables, speaks of our journey from bondage to redemption in the Land of Israel. We recount the story of events that happened more than 3,300 years ago to highlight the extraordinary strength and resilience of the Jewish people. One of the most powerful elements of the seder, and the reason why it has been observed for thousands of years, is that we do not just recall the story of the Israelites’ transformation from slavery to freedom -- We experience it


We taste the bitter herbs of oppression and celebrate the wine of liberation because we are reminded each year that it is as if we ourselves were brought out of Egypt. The rituals and symbols of Passover -- matzah, Elijah’s Cup, and more – showcase lessons of adversity and hope. These enduring themes, which have been part of our tradition for thousands of years, have never been more important.


It is a testament to the power of community and the importance of coming together in times of adversity. This is our greatest strength. Together, we will continue to take care of our Jewish family in need; whether they live across the globe or down the street. And we will always stand up to antisemitism. Our strongest response to hate is simply to live vibrant Jewish lives.


The Haggadah calls on us to remember our past, be grateful for our present, and look with hope to the future. It describes the humble beginnings of a tribe that has survived for thousands of years and it relates the miracles that propelled us into a People with a mandate to be “a light unto the nations.”


On behalf of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, we wish you and your family a joyous and meaningful Passover. May we continue to draw inspiration from the courage and fortitude of our ancestors as we face the challenges of the present and future. It is our resilience that has allowed us not only to persevere throughout history, but to thrive.



As part of our Passover gatherings, I know that many of us may have our own Passover traditions. While living in Baltimore, a family asked everyone to bring current events articles to discuss at the seder. A colleague recently shared about asking the eldest attendee to recount their first Passover memory, who was there, what was served, etc. I am always curious to hear more traditions, so please feel free to share. 


In addition, as I like to do, here are some fun Passover facts:


The world's largest matzah ball was made in the heart of New York City in 2009. Chef Anthony Sylvestry managed to make a matzah ball measuring 22.9” wide and weighing a whopping 267 pounds! Think it was a floater or a sinker? 


Abraham Lincoln Died During Passover. The 16th American president was shot at Ford’s Theatre on a Friday, April 14, 1865, which coincided with the fourth night of Passover. The next morning, Jews who wouldn’t normally have attended services on the holiday were so moved by Lincoln’s passing they made their way to synagogues, where the normally celebratory Passover services were instead marked by acts of mourning and the singing of Yom Kippur hymns. American Jews were so affected by Lincoln’s death that Congregation Shearith Israel in New York recited the Mourner’s Kaddish — usually said only for Jews — on the president’s behalf.


The world’s largest Passover seder, boasting more than 1,000 participants, is held yearly in Kathmandu, Nepal. Why Nepal? The country is overflowing with young Israeli travelers who have recently finished their army service.


In Gibraltar, there is dust in the charoset. Traditional charoset is a sweet Passover food whose texture is meant as a reminder of the mortar the enslaved Jews used to build in ancient Egypt. The name itself is related to the Hebrew word for clay. In Ashkenazi tradition, it is made from crushed nuts, apples and sweet red wine, while Sephardi Jews use figs or dates. But the tiny Jewish community in Gibraltar takes the brick symbolism to another level, using the dust of actual bricks in their recipe.


“Afikomen” is not a Hebrew word. For many seder attendees, the highlight of the meal is the afikomen — a broken piece of matzah that the seder leader hides and that the children in attendance search for; the person who finds the afikomen usually gets a small reward. Most scholars believe the word “afikomen” derives from the Greek word for dessert. Others say it refers to a kind of post-meal revelry common among the Greeks. Either theory would explain why the afikomen is traditionally the last thing eaten at the seder.


And for some more interesting tidbits, here are 10 Passover customs from around the world.


Shabbat shalom and chag Pesach kasher v'sameach, a kosher and joyous Passover. 

PS -- Please note the Jewish Federation office will be closed on Thursday and Friday for the Passover holiday.


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