Passover, Easter: religious traditions joined by theme of rebirth

| March 28, 2024 | 0 Comments

Although the dates vary from year to year, Easter and Passover are always spring holidays that celebrate rebirth and renewal and share one thing in common. The centerpiece of Passover is the ritual meal called the Seder, when the story of the Jews’ 1300 B.C. exodus from slavery in Egypt is told. It is written in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke that the Last Supper of Jesus was a Seder.

The Passover Seder

Seders were conducted as far back as 90 B.C. Seder, held on the first two nights (this year April 22 and 23) of the eight-day holiday, means “order,” and the interactions of the night follow a particular order. Edana Appel, director of Camp & Family Programs at J Los Angeles, explains. “All Jews are doing this all over the world. We are one link in the long chain of people.”

The journey to freedom began when Moses requested of Pharaoh, to no avail, to “Let my people go.” God then unleashed 10 plagues upon the Egyptians, from frogs and lice to the killing of the first born by the Angel of Death. To ensure the safety of Jewish families, they were instructed to sacrifice a lamb and smear its blood on their doorposts as a signal to the Angel of Death to pass over their homes, hence “Passover.”

The story continues that, after that plague, Pharaoh granted them leave, but changed his mind and sent his warriors after the fleeing Jews. This led to a harrowing journey across the narrows of the Red Sea, which mysteriously parted to let the fleeing Jewish people across to dry land, and then closed to drown the pursuers.

Some interpret this symbolically. “There are always times when we leave the narrow and expand into a larger world,” says Canter Lisa Peicott of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. “In our own life, we can feel stuck, in a ‘narrow.’ We can experience our own exodus, our own rebirth.”

LIV enjoys matzo dipped in chocolate.

The ritual Seder foods represent elements of the historic quest for freedom. Matzo, a flat, cracker-like bread, is a reminder that there wasn’t time to wait for bread to rise before leaving. A drop of wine is spilled for each of the 10 plagues. Horseradish is a reminder of the bitterness of slavery. Foods are dipped in salt water for the tears the slaves shed. Many add an orange to the table to symbolize equality for women and LGBTQIA+ people.

Family Passover traditions

WILL DAVIS (in hat) helps build a vegetable stand before celebrating Passover in Uganda.

Peggy and Stephen Davis, Windsor Square residents, and their grown children, Cadence (23), Will (30) and Hannah Davis Katirai (33) and her husband, Andrew, all crowd the kitchen to help prepare the meal. Some of the recipes were handed down from grandparents. “It keeps memories of them alive,” says Peggy. One year, she and Will went to Uganda for Passover. “We had a meal with the Abayudaya Jews,” explains Peggy. “They have been in eastern Uganda for more than 100 years. They are doing the same thing [for Passover as we do].”

TOGETHER FOR PASSOVER: from left to right, Harry, in-laws Barbara and Bruce Speiser; Amanda Witman holding Goldie Speiser; Brian Speiser and grandmother Dee Dee

Amanda Whitman and Brian Speiser of Windsor Village and their children Goldie (5) and Harry (20 months) may invite friends over for the Seder this year, but they’ll be sure to provide masks signifying each of the plagues for the children to wear. Amanda says, “They’re very cute!”

Easter rejoicing

The holiest day of the Christian calendar, Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus following his crucifixion. Father Jon Feuss of St. James’ in-the-City Episcopal Church explains that after the crucifixion, “A group of women went over to the tomb to tend to Jesus’ body and discovered he had risen. It was the opening of the gate of everlasting life.” A principal tenet of the faith became the promise, as Feuss says, of “enjoying life in heaven for all eternity.”

CALVIN KIM hunting for eggs with his preschool class at St. James’.

Falling this year on Sun., March 31, Easter is the joyous end to the spiritual journey of Lent that begins six and a half weeks before with Ash Wednesday. As ashes are marked on congregants’ foreheads, Feuss notes, “We say, ‘Remember you were dust, and to dust you shall return.’ It’s a reminder that our time on this earth is limited. In this season of reevaluation, think about what you’d like to change about our relationship to God and to other people.” The introspective period leads to the sorrow of Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion, followed by the celebratory Easter on Sunday.

As a deeply religious holiday, it is customary to spend Easter Sunday morning in church. Later, families usually gather for feasts and frivolity. Children traditionally dye eggs and search to fill their baskets with chocolate eggs hidden by the Easter Bunny. Purportedly, the bunny connection was made in the 1700s when German immigrants to Pennsylvania brought with them a tradition where hares laid colorful eggs for good children. Others maintain Easter bunnies hopped onto the scene because their reputed fertility ties into the idea of birth and rebirth.

Family Easter traditions

ISAAC SMITH shows off his bunny car Easter craft, made at the Petersen Automotive Museum.

Whitney Smith and her husband, Mike, enjoy taking daughters Charlie, 8, and Maya, 1, and son Isaac, 5, to their neighborhood park in Brookside for an Easter egg hunt. Afterward, they’ll head to her sister’s home for a big meal and another egg hunt. To limit the candy consumption, explains Whitney, “We put little coins in the [plastic] eggs.”

DRESSED UP for church on Easter are, clockwise from lower left: Roy Kim, Alina, Kayla, Ashley, Calvin.

Bunny books sometimes join the treats in Ashley and Roy Kim’s Easter baskets for their three children, Kayla, 9, Alina, 7, and Calvin, 2. “Easter is one of our favorite holidays,” says the Hancock Park mother. “On Easter Sunday, we go to church as a family. We try to make it special and wear our best outfits.” Ashley looks forward to Calvin hunting for eggs with his preschool class at St. James’. Kayla declares that one of the best things about Easter is, “Parents get to spend fun time with their kids!” 

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Category: People

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