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Berger’s Burg: Passover, Easter holidays celebrate renewal, rebirth

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A look at the calendar reveals that the first night of the festive Jewish holiday of Passover falls on April 16. Four days later, on April 20, Easter will arrive. Their proximity is not coincidental since both holidays usually coincide. And, not coincidentally, both holidays are similar in many other ways.

Passover is the eight-day holiday of freedom, newness and rebirth. Easter is the holiday of the cross, the church and rebirth. Both are happy holidays and children play important roles in each.

The Passover holiday marks the birth of the Jews as a people and celebrates their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. In every corner of the world, Jewish families will join at the Seder table to recall the story of the Exodus and to reaffirm their Judaism and freedom. The children will be sent looking for the “Afikomen,” or matzohs (unleavened bread), hidden by a member of the family.

Similarly, the Easter holiday marks the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ and the beginning of his new life. Youngsters are sent looking for colored Easter eggs, which are also hidden away, figuratively, by the Easter Bunny. Eggs are viewed as the symbol of life by Jews and Christians alike.

Historically, eggs have been decorated by Christians and other earlier believers in a divine source of life for hundreds of years. The eggs were painted with brilliant colors and then decorated with fine materials, such as precious stones. These were given as gifts and were objects to be treasured.

The Easter Bunny, whom they also believed represented birth and new life, has been bringing candy and brightly colored eggs to delighted children of all faiths for generations. What would Easter be without the Easter Bunny?

This symbol of the holiday was first introduced on the American scene in the 19th century, by German immigrants. A German duchess came up with the story of the Easter Hare (the larger cousin of the rabbit), who laid eggs and hid them for children to find. When the Easter Bunny visited, children knew that spring had finally arrived.

Food, of course, is a focal point for both holidays and, for some, eating is a major pastime to while away the time. Traditionally, children share the spotlight with the vittles. During the Passover Seder, the ritual banquet symbolically re-enacting the Exodus, there is a reading from the “Haggadah,” a monograph relating the events of the flight of the Jews from ancient Egypt. Every individual reads a specific passage aloud, in rotation. Children old enough to read take their turns.

The youngest child is then called upon to recite the traditional “Four Questions.” He will ask why the Passover night is different from all other nights. The answers are supplied by the patriarch of the family.

It is a most thrilling experience for all participants, including the children, who know that the same passages they are reading have been recited by Jews on Passover Seder nights for more than 5,000 years. Passover is the perfect occasion for Jewish families to gather and reinforce their ties to Judaism and to each other.

Similarly, Easter (the name was derived from the Saxon name for the goddess of spring, “Eostre”) has comparable customs. During the Easter Sunday meal, the children are catered to and dressed in their best fineries. It is also a precious time for adults and children to reaffirm their religious and familial bonds.

The Easter holiday also means a beginning and a rebirth. The Resurrection of Christ from the tomb and the promise of eternal life are emphasized. Easter corresponds with spring. The sense of renewal of life is very much felt as the hours of daylight are lengthened and plant life is seen blooming.

Since A.D. 325, the observance of this holiday has been set as the first full moon after the vernal equinox, March 21. Although Easter has become very secularized (as are many other essentially religious occasions), this holiday remains a sacred event for Christians.

Characteristically, Easter is also a fun time for celebrants to display their new clothes and pretty Easter bonnets. It is also a most welcome opportunity for the winter-weary to go on outings and fulfill their natural yearning to welcome the return of the sun. In doing this, they are carrying on a tradition that has been recorded since the most ancient of times.

Cleanliness is also very important in both holidays. Before the Passover holiday, the Jewish home must be scrubbed clean. Special pots and dishes are used, as well as new paper lining for closet shelves, new dish towels, etc. Everything must be new, kosher for Passover, and cleanliness must be observed to the letter.

A favorite family activity is to search for “chometz,” food not certified “kosher for Passover,” using a feather, and dusting all corners of the house, ridding it of any forbidden foods. Chometz is removed from the household, and only Passover food is permitted in the house during the entire eight-day period.

Easter is also a time to make the home bright and shiny. On Easter Sunday, Christians attend church services and recall the biblical story depicting how Jesus disappeared from his tomb on the third day after his crucifixion. An angel appeared to his followers and announced, “He is risen.”

During Passover and Easter, families congregate, pray and sing hymns and joyful songs. The celebrants eat around a festive and bountiful table and partake in pleasing pursuits. The joyful character of Passover and Easter is the most attractive feature of both. The promise of eternal life — as symbolized in the return of spring — is cherished anew.

Despite that woeful winter is going to return, people bask in the knowledge that spring will also return, and with it another Passover and Easter. So, at this joyful time of the year for Christian and Jew, please allow Gloria and me to wish you and your family the happiest of holidays.

To my Jewish readers: We wish you a “zeesin pesach” (sweet Passover). Let all the sweetness of the Seder be with you throughout the year.

To my Christian readers: We wish you an Easter of health, joy and happiness.

And to the world, some of whom do not read this column: We wish you all, in the spirit of deliverance and hope, a world absent of illness, a world full of love and a world at peace.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 140.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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