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Friday night, millions of Jews across the globe will gather around a table to commemorate Passover, an eight-day holiday that remembers the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. One of the most important Jewish holidays of the year, Passover brings people together to retell the miracles of the exodus as recounted in the Bible, and to offer up hope for the future.
For the uninitiated, here are five things to know about Passover:.
1. It’s a family affair
Passover is ushered in with a ‘seder,’ a festive dinner that’s part performance, part groaning platters of food. (More religious Jews have seders on the first and second nights). The ritual includes four cups of wine and the recitation of the Haggadah, a Jewish text that includes prayers, excerpts of the story and songs. When you’re little, and hungry, it can feel as if the story is taking place in real time. (Bring on the food!) It’s meant to be low-key and, hopefully for those around the table, fun.
2. In bad news for carb lovers, no bread allowed
Jews who follow the holiday’s tenets can not eat chometz — any good that contains wheat, rye, barley, oats or spelt that has been in contact with water for more than 18 minutes — during these eight days. That’s right — no pizza, cookies or pasta. This is to commemorate the haste with which the Jewish people fled Egypt — they left so quickly that the bread they made didn’t have enough time to rise.
3. But, a new ruling has been made!
For the first time in more than 800 years, rice and beans can be eaten with Passover dinner. Everything in a category of food called kitniyot — that includes rice, beans, corn and other legumes — had been banned by Ashkenazi rabbis since the 1200s because they often contained wheat. Of course, however, it’s not as simple as that. Orthodox Jews, as opposed to those in the Reform and Conservative movements, of Ashkenazi descent — that is, mainly from central and eastern European descent — still maintain that kitniyot are forbidden throughout the holiday.
4. Matzo galore
Instead of bread, Jews eat matzo — bland, cracker-like, unleavened flatbread — throughout the holiday, especially at the Seder. Baked in 18 minutes or less, each piece of Matzo contains hundreds of holes to prevent the dough from rising and becoming chometz. Mercifully, each matzo is only 100 calories, so eat up!
5. Pass-over — for real
According to the Bible, God inflicted 10 plagues upon the Egyptians in an effort to cajole them into releasing the Jews from bondage. The final and most devastating plague involved God killing every firstborn Egyptian son, while “passing over” the homes and sparing the lives of Jewish firstborn sons.
6. It’s all about the community
Above all, the holiday of Passover is about coming together as one, and ends — in prayer and in thought — with the hope for peace for all.
Yitzchak Carroll is a member of the USA TODAY College community network.
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