10 Interesting Facts You Didn’t Know about Passover
Passover celebrates the Jewish people’s freedom and liberty from tyranny and autocracy. It deals with the struggle that Hebrews endured to reach—and create—the “Land of Hope and Promise.” In honor of this, every year thousands of followers and believers observe Pesach.
Mouth-watering dishes are prepared, homes are decorated and gifts are exchanged. There is, however, a great deal to know and learn about the festival.
Think you know everything there is to know about Passover? Think again. Here are 10 interesting facts you probably didn’t know.
Whipping with Onions
The traditional Passover song, “Dayenu” means “it would have been enough” and lists the 15 gifts and miracles God bestowed on the Jews in the Book of Exodus. The notion that each would be enough on its own is a dominant theme during Passover. The song is sung throughout the diaspora during the seder. Sephardic Jews from Iran and Afghanistan, however, have a particularly energetic custom in which they whip each other with oversize scallions. Before they sing, participants stand, take a scallion and whack other members of the feast. Some families pass one scallion around the table and each one takes their turn at whipping. There’s some debate about where the custom began. Many believe it’s a way to mimic the whips of the slave drivers in Egypt.
Crossing the Red Sea
In the Polish town of Gora Kalwaria, Hasidic Jews mark Passover by re-enacting the crossing of the Red Sea. To make it realistic, water is poured on the floor as they lift up their coats and recite the names of the towns they’d cross. A glass is raised each time a town is referenced. Participants offer thanks for being able to reach their destination.
For hundreds of years, Ethiopian Jews endured persecution in their homeland because of their unique religious rites. In 1984 and 1991, many fled Ethiopia in two secret airlifts. To honor their past and celebrate their rebirth, during Passover some Ethiopian Jews break their dishes and cookware. The tradition is in keeping with the hope for emancipation and redemption that the holiday signifies.
The Second Seder
According to the Hebrew calendar, the first night of Passover falls on the 15th day of Nisan. That’s when the new moon rises and spring starts. The date, however, was originally based on the lunar cycle, which created a somewhat different clock for Jews outside of Israel. Jerusalem authorities handed down the annual date but it took some time for the official word to spread throughout the world. To ensure the international community didn’t miss the crucial seventh day of Passover, an eighth day was added in case the new moon’s rising was miscalculated.
A Rugrats Passover
In an April 13, 1995 Rugrats episode, Tommy Pickles, Angelica and Chuckie learn the story of the Exodus when they are trapped in the attic with Grandpa Boris during the family seder. As the story progresses, the three imagine themselves in the roles of the biblical characters. When it was aired, it was the most watched episode in Nickelodeon history.
Coca-Cola Goes Kosher for Passover
While Coke is usually a kosher product, the dietary laws become more stringent during Passover. The high-fructose corn syrup is prohibited for observant Jews. In response, Coca-Cola puts out a limited edition, using real sugar rather than kitniyot corn. Look for the bottles with the yellow caps to be sure you’re getting the right one.
Abraham Lincoln Was Assassinated during Passover
According to the American Jewish Historical Society, many Jews were in synagogue for the holiday when news of Lincoln’s assassination broke. Altars in temples “were quickly draped in black and, instead of Passover melodies, the congregations chanted Yom Kippur hymns. Rabbis set aside their sermons and wept openly at their pulpits as did their congregants.”
The Orange on the Seder Plate
The Passover seder is rich in symbolism. Recently, a new food made its way to the platter—the orange. Some consider it a symbol of women’s rights but Professor Susannah Heschel said the orange had a different meaning. It was to be eaten “as a gesture of solidarity with Jewish people of all lifestyles" and "the seeds, symbolizing intolerance, were to be spat out."
The Freedom Seder emerged in the mid-20th century as a joint celebration for Jews and African Americans and others caught up in union or leftist political struggles. They would come together and celebrate the mythic promise of emancipation.
The World’s Largest Seder Takes Place in Nepal
Every year, members of the Chabad Lubavitch movement hold their “Seder on Top of the World” in Kathmandu for local Jews and travelers. In the past, nearly 2,000 attended the festivities in Nepal.