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Celebrating Freedom: Passover Begins in Westport

WESTPORT, Conn. – People of the Jewish faith in Westport and beyond are gearing up for Passover, an eight-day Jewish festival celebrating freedom that begins Friday.

Passover, one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays, commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt, said Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of the Conservative Synagogue of Westport and Weston.

“We celebrate freedom from slavery in Egypt as we tell the story of our redemption each year,” said Wiederhorn. “In every generation, we are obliged to see ourselves as though we were personally redeemed from Egypt.”

In modern society, Wiederhorn said Passover can serve as a time for people to reflect upon “the ways in which we are still enslaved and hope to become more free.”

This year, Passover begins Friday at sundown and ends on the evening of April 14. The holiday is most commonly celebrated through a seder, a 15-step ritual filled with symbolism that concludes with a festive meal with family and friends, Wiederhorn said. Outside of Israel, the seder takes place on the first and second nights of Passover.

As part of Passover, Jewish families refrain from eating hametz, or leavened bread. Before Passover begins, Wiederhorn said families often rid their homes of all hametz. According to the story of Passover, when the Jews left Egypt, they were in such a hurry that there was no time to wait for the dough to rise. As a result, they ate matzah, unleavened bread. The eating of the matzah is symbolic of this.

In remembrance of the slavery the Jews endured in Egypt, bitter herbs are also eaten as part of the seder. In contrast, the meal also includes wine or grape juice to symbolize the celebration of the first Passover and the flight from persecution.

“The Passover seder is designed for the children to ask questions,” Wiederhorn said. “A central piece to the seder is the Four Questions, which are traditionally asked by the youngest member at the table.”

The seder is conducted by reading from the Haggadah, which tells the story of Passover. The Haggadah also serves as a guidebook for the ritual.

Children, Wiederhorn said, are not only encouraged to ask questions throughout the seder, but also to share in telling the story of Passover.

“At a very young age, we try to impress upon our children the importance of celebrating and appreciating our freedom."

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