Passover begins tonight at sunset.

Passover is an eight-day festival celebrated from the 15th through the 22nd day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt.

In Hebrew the holiday is known as Pesach (which means “to pass over”), because, according to the Book of Exodus, God passed over the Jewish homes when killing the Egyptian firstborn on the very first Passover eve.

The story of the Exodus teaches that God helped the children of Israel escape from their slavery in Egypt by inflicting 10 plagues upon the ancient Egyptians before the Pharaoh finally released his Israelite slaves. The 10th plague was the death of the Egyptian first-born.

The Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a slaughtered spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord knew to pass over the first-born in these homes.

When the Israelites were finally freed, they left in such a hurry they could not wait for bread dough to rise. Therefore to commemorate Passover, for the duration of the week-long holiday, no leavened bread is eaten. Passover is also known as the feast of unleavened bread.

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The holiday is traditionally celebrated with a special meal called a Seder, during which celebrants relive the events leading up to the emancipation of the Israelites. They recite a liturgy called the Haggadah, which tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

Temple Israel of Riverhead is hosting a Passover Seder led by Rabbi Michael Rascoe tonight. Services begin at 7 p.m. followed by Seder.

Reservations are required; contact the Temple Israel office at 631-727-3191. Cost is $60/adult; $25/child. Templ Israel of Riverhead is located at 490 Northville Turnpike (at Ostrander Avenue) in Riverhead.

Happy Passover!

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