Chag Sameach!

That popular greeting, which means "joyous festival," will help usher in the start of Passover in many Jewish homes beginning at sundown tonight. The weeklong Jewish holiday commemorates the Israelites escape from Egyptian bondage, as detailed in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Passover ends on Tuesday evening, April 22.

Besides two traditional Seder meals on the first two nights of the holiday, other traditions also commemorate the Hebrew story of freedom and the season of spring.

For those unfamiliar with Passover, here are answers to common questions about the Jewish holiday:

What is the story of Passover?

The Book of Exodus tells the story of the Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt and their journey through the desert to the promised Holy Land.

In a nutshell, after the Israelites endured decades of slavery in Ancient Egypt, God appeared to the Hebrew prophet Moses and told him to ask the pharaoh to let the Israelites go free. Despite many warnings, pharaoh refused, and God punished Egypt with 10 devastating plagues. After the final and most horrific plague that killed the firstborn sons of every Egyptian, pharaoh broke down and let the Israelites go. They did so in a hurry (in case pharaoh changed his mind again), without any time to fully bake bread. Pharaoh did in fact have a change of heart and had his army chase the Israelites. When the Egyptian forces closed in on them at the Red Sea, God told Moses to lift his staff, which parted the body of water, letting the Israelites through but drowning the Egyptians in their wake.  

What does Passover mean?

The word Passover comes from the 10th plague, where God “passed over” the Israelites’ homes and spared their firstborn sons from being killed.

What is a Passover Seder?

A Passover Seder is a traditional meal that takes place on the first two nights of the holiday. “Seder,” which means “order” in Hebrew, is the theme for the meal. Throughout the dinner, Seder-goers read from a book called a Haggadah, which contains biblical passages, songs and stories. A Seder plate is typically set in the middle of the table with six foods that symbolize elements of the Exodus story. For instance, bitter herbs represent the painful experience of slavery and haroset (a mixture of apples, nuts, raisins, wine and spices) signifies the mortar the Israelites used. Matzah and wine are both staple foods. In fact, getting drunk is considered an imperative since the holiday is considered a celebration of freedom.

What is matzah?

The Israelities, who didn't have time to bake bread before fleeing Eqypt, were left with thin brittle crackers to eat. To signify this, Jews eat a similar substance called matzah and refrain from eating anything with yeast in it for the week of Passover.


A fun tradition during the Seder involves hiding a piece of matzah for children to find at the end of the meal. Whoever finds it is usually rewarded with candy or money. The word “Afikomen” comes from the Greek word for dessert, not because it is sweet, but because it is the last item of food eaten at the Seder.