Diversity Matters: Passover

April 18, 2019  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources,

This Friday and Saturday evening, many members of the Michigan Medicine community will ask a simple question: “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

The question is often asked by the youngest member of a family as part of the seder (pronounced say-dur), a ritual meal that is held on the first two nights of Passover.

Passover — or Pesach in Hebrew— is an eight-day Jewish celebration of the Israelites’ Exodus from the land of Egypt, where they were slaves to Pharoah, as told in the biblical book of Exodus.

“Passover is one of the most beloved of all Jewish holidays,” said Rabbi Sara Adler of Michigan Medicine’s Spiritual Care Department. “It’s a joyous holiday, filled with hope. We remember where our ancestors came from and what they overcame thousands of years ago.”

Passover is also a holiday in which families tend to gather, sometimes from long distances.

“For patients, being hospitalized or ill can add to feelings of isolation if they are unable to gather with loved ones for the holiday,” Adler said.

Therefore, to better support patients, families and colleagues who will be celebrating, here’s what you may not know about Passover.

A family feast

The holiday begins with the seder. During the first two nights of the holiday, families and/or friends gather together to sing prayers, retell the story of the Exodus and eat foods that are highly symbolic.

“The seder is a unique meal that follows a set order. Each food represents a different aspect of the Passover story,” said Adler.

That’s what makes the question of why the first two nights of Passover are different from all other nights so important.

“By asking questions, we engage each other and the next generation in the telling of our history,” Adler said. “We also ask questions to make the story of the Exodus relevant. For example, we might ask: ‘What does freedom look like?’ ‘What are we grateful for?’ ‘What parts of our world are still oppressed and what is our responsibility to change it?’”

As part of the meal, attendees eat unleavened bread called matzah, which represents that the Israelites did not have the time to wait for their bread to rise while escaping Egypt. The Bible commands that no leavened bread be found in Israelite homes throughout the holiday. Traditional Jews, therefore, spend the days leading up to Passover in careful preparation of their kitchens to ensure that no forbidden grains or leavened products are found in their homes.

Among other symbolic items that make up the seder plate are bitter herbs (such as lettuce or horseradish) to commemorate the bitterness of slavery; charoset (a mixture of apples, nuts and wine) that symbolizes the mortar used when the Israelites were enslaved; a shankbone to represent the sacrificial lamb offered on the eve of the Exodus; and four cups of wine (or grape juice) to celebrate freedom.

Should a patient request any of these food items, please contact his or her registered dietitian nutritionist to see what can be offered at Michigan Medicine.

Other traditions

The first two days and last two days of Passover are formal holidays on the Hebrew calendar, during which many light holiday candles and attend synagogue. Observant followers will take these days off of work.

The middle four days are less formal, and work is typically carried out as usual — although Passover dietary restrictions are still adhered to.

“Eating foods that are kosher for Passover throughout the week continues to remind us that we are connected to our history, as well as to Jewish communities around the world,” Adler said.

In the end, Passover is a celebration. It is common to wish observers a “Happy Passover” or Chag Sameach, which translates to “Happy Festival.”

As Adler said: “Passover marks a miraculous time in the history of the Israelites, and we spend time with our community and families to share our joy and our hope that we may always find paths toward freedom.”

This year, Passover runs from sundown on April 19 to sundown on April 27. Should any patient request a visit from a Spiritual Care chaplain during Passover or any other holiday, call 734-936-4041 or email UMHS-Chaplain@med.umich.edu.