Every spring, Jewish families around the world face a particular challenge: ridding their homes of everything that might contain leaven, such as yeast.
It’s hard work. Parents and children search every shelf, cupboard, and drawer. But it’s also an occasion for fun. Some families hide ten small pieces of leavened bread around the house, then conduct a search to round them up. For a brief period, the only grain consumed is matzah, a simple unleavened bread made of only flour and water. This is the Jewish holiday of Passover. The origins of the tradition lie in the book of Exodus, which tells the story of the ancient Hebrews’ escape from Egypt. When Pharaoh refuses Moses’s pleas to “Let my people go,” God sends ten plagues to Egypt. The final plague brings death to every first-born male. To protect the Hebrews, Moses tells them to mark their doorposts with the blood of a lamb. Because of that sign their homes are “passed over” during the terrible night. Following this final plague, Pharaoh lets the Hebrews go. They depart in haste; there is no time to let the bread rise. The week-long Passover festival remains a central part of Jewish tradition. Family and friends gather for a special meal, known as the seder. It is a ceremony of thanksgiving, of freedom, and of springtime. For thousands of years the festival of Passover has carried a biblical story into Jewish homes and now it is celebrated in every region of the globe.