The kitchen at Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester was a hubbub of activity Tuesday evening before their community Passover meal was set to begin.
There were people poking their heads in to catch a whiff of fresh parsley and horseradish, a core group of smiling people hurrying to finish arranging the seder plates and garnish the gefilte fish appetizers, whip up more horseradish, get the salmon out of the oven and instruct waitstaff.
It was the second night of Passover, an eight-day-long holiday that takes place in spring, during which Jewish people worldwide sit down to huge, traditional meals, seasoned to the tastes they grew up with, to celebrate their ancestors’ exodus from Egypt, where they’d been enslaved, and their journey to freedom and eventually their own country, now known as Israel. The story is told in the Bible’s Old Testament Book of Exodus.
The story tells of Moses, a Jewish man born in Egypt in secret during the time of slavery. He was actually brought up in the Pharaoh’s family as an Egyptian, but he knew his heritage. He was chosen by God to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt, where they were first living in peace, but then were enslaved for several hundred years, to freedom. He attempted to convince the Egyptian Pharaoh to free them.
The Pharaoh refused, and as a result, the citizens of that country were visited by 10 plagues that escalated in their severity, from people being plagued by frogs, lice, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and so on, until the last and most severe: the death of all first born children. Jews were given some warning, and were ordered to kill a lamb, place its blood upon their doorways, and the Angel of Death would quite literally “pass over” those homes and spare them.
After that last plague, the Jews had depart the country swiftly. There was no time to bake their daily bread fully, which is why matzah is flat and unleavened.
The Passover meal is known as the seder, which means “order” in Hebrew and follows a set order of operations. The haggadah, a book, retells the Jewish experience in Egypt through songs, blessings, prayers, commentary and anecdotes and outlines the order in which food is served and consumed all evening. The meal is joyful, but people are reminded that Jews were able to escape their bondage and start new lives — and that it’s sad that Egyptians had to die, too.
The temple’s Seder was a buffet, with more than 100 people present, but the event’s intention as a whole was to follow the haggadah’s chronology.
The seder plate is composed of seven symbolic foods: matzah, which is unleavened bread, a hard-boiled egg denoting new life and spring, a lamb shank to denote sacrifice, parsley to denote the lack of food, horseradish to denote the bitter time they had, “charoset,” a mixture of nuts, wine and apples, that resembles the mortar the Jews used to build with, and salt water to denote their tears.
Rev. Mark Green of Holy Family Parish and Pastor Anne Deneen of St. Paul Lutheran Church were also in attendance at the community dinner.
Easter is this Sunday, and the last supper that Jesus ate was a Passover seder. The two holidays dovetail in that regard, among others, and some meals served at churches later this week on Maundy Thursday will also be seders.
Allegra Boverman is the chief photographer and a staff writer for the Gloucester Daily Times. She can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3448 and at email@example.com