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.