Everything You Wanted To Know About Passover — If You’re Not Jewish

If you aren’t Jewish but find yourself sitting at a Passover seder this year, fear not. The festival meal is meant to be an educational experience, which means it’s ideal for a beginner. But if you’re nervous about jumping into the holiday, grab a yarmulke or skullcap, and read on for the most important parts of the seder experience:

Reading at the table is allowed The haggadah, essentially the script for the evening’s rituals and the Exodus story, will be your constant companion throughout the night. Many haggadahs include detailed stage directions on when to drink the wine, eat the matzah or wash your hands, so if you get confused, refer to the haggadah for help. And if you need a break from the conversation around the table, the haggadah provides some interesting reading material.

An unusual centerpiece You can’t have a seder without a seder plate. The plate includes a selection of foods commemorating the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem or certain rituals performed at the seder. Some Jews include an orange as a symbol of feminism. But just remember, these foods are for looking, not eating.

Heavy drinking You probably already know that Jews drink four cups of wine at the seder. But you may not know that two of those cups of wine are drunk before any of the real food is served, so we suggest eating a snack before the seder and keeping a water glass handy throughout.

10 drops of wine When we get to the ten plagues in the Exodus story, we use our fingers to drop ten drops of wine from our cups to symbolically diminish our joy over the suffering of the Egyptians. Many families, especially with young children, use finger puppets and frog toys to illustrate the plagues as well.

Sinus clearing snacks Jews aren’t known for their tolerance of spicy foods. Passover is the exception when many seder-goers compete to see who can eat the most maror. Maror, which means bitter herbs and usually consists of horseradish, is eaten to commemorate the bitter slavery our ancestors endured in Egypt. If you’d like to clear your sinuses, then by all means, go for the horseradish. But if you don’t want to shed any actual tears over the plight of the Jews in Egypt, you can eat some romaine lettuce instead.

Crumbs, crumbs, everywhere When the Jews left Egypt, they were in such a hurry to escape Pharaoh that they couldn’t wait to let their bread rise, so they baked it in unleavened loaves. The original matzah was probably more like a pita, but today’s matzah is essentially a plain cracker, perfect for spreading with butter and salt.

Hillel sandwich The word “sandwich” is used loosely here. The Hillel sandwich consists of matzah, maror and charoset, a paste made from chopped fruit, nuts, and wine. The sandwich is eaten to commemorate the sandwich that Hillel the Great, a Second Temple era rabbi, used to make from the Passover sacrifice.

Let’s eat! If you’re still awake after listening to the Exodus story and all the prayers and songs that come with it, your reward will be great. You’ve reached the actual meal! You’ll likely be eating chicken soup with matzah balls, brisket or carrot kugel. And of course, coconut macaroons for dessert.

A special visitor Contrary to popular opinion, there are actually five cups of wine at the seder, we just don’t drink the fifth. At the end of the seder, we open the door for Elijah the prophet and pour him a cup of wine. Elijah is said to visit all Jewish households around the world on seder night to attest to their righteousness.

Scavenger hunt Towards the beginning of the seder, a piece of matzah is broken and one half of it, the afikomen, is hidden away. In some families, the children hide it from the parents and in others the parents hide it from the children. In many homes, the one to find the afikomen is rewarded with a gift. The afikomen is the last food we eat at the seder, so if you ever want to go to sleep, you may want to aid in the search.

Adorable kiddies The seder is all about teaching the next generation about the Jewish heritage through experiential learning and the rituals and texts are meant to spark questions and curiosity. There is no such thing as a stupid question at the seder so let your inner child out and ask away.

Contact Shira Hanau at hanau@forward.com or on Twitter @shirahanau

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    Everything You Wanted To Know About Passover — If You’re Not Jewish

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