Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, is an eight-day spring holiday that celebrates the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.
According to tradition, the Israelites left Egypt in such a hurry that they weren’t able to wait for their bread to rise, so they ended up with flat crunchy cracker-like bread called matzah. During Passover, Jewish law prohibits eating or even owning anything that is leavened (hametz). So, leading up to Passover, it is traditional to do a thorough spring cleaning to rid the home of any hametz. And of course, there are special recipes and foods that we eat on Passover in order to accommodate the restriction on all things leavened.
The main ritual of Passover is the seder, a carefully choreographed meal held on the first two evenings of the holiday (in Israel, and for most Reform Jews, there’s only one seder, on the first night). The seder is designed to provoke questions from children, and to provide an opportunity for telling the story of how the Israelites were redeemed from slavery and given the gift of the Torah.
A number of symbolic foods are laid out on the seder table, including matzah, the maror (bitter herb), and the shankbone, which commemorates the Paschal sacrifice that was offered in the Temple. The seder follows a script laid out in the haggadah, a book that tells the story of the redemption from Egypt. There are all kinds of different haggadot (that’s the plural of haggadah), including dozens made specifically for children, and others focusing on everything from feminism to human rights to the environment.
Most of the rituals for Passover happen at home, but there are special Passover services in synagogue, as well.