Jersualem, Israel — “It's kind of like a religious Thanksgiving,” said FOX News Cameraman Mal James.
Mal knows it's best to explain things in American terms to me — that was his way of describing Passover dinner.
Producer Mark Abrahams and his wife Bella were kind enough to invite several of us from the bureau to celebrate Passover with them. It was a moving evening, filled with spirituality, family, and five courses of delicious food and wine!
Back in the states, most people think that Hanukah is the biggest holiday for Jews — but that's just because it competes with Christmas. In Israel, you really learn the significance Passover has for the origins of early Judaism. It celebrates the Israelites fleeing Egypt from slavery to freedom. One of the observances during this holiday requires removing bread from your diet and your home. Bread is removed from most supermarkets in Jerusalem. When the Jews left Egypt, they were in such a hurry that there was no time for the yeast in the bread to rise. So, they memorialize that by eating only unleavened bread — matzo — during the holiday.
We did a story on Sunday for Fox & Friends about a zoo that feeds the animals matzo during Passover. I was told that one large piece of matzo is 400 calories — but the zookeeper said that Passover dinner isn't a time to cut calories. Her remark was validated at Abrahams' Passover dinner — there was plenty of food, from sweet glazed fish and lamb with mint sauce to fresh salads and several chocolate desserts. My colleague Mike Tobin was prodded into eating seconds at every course. The older gentleman sitting next to him insisted by saying, “Eat. Special for you.”
There were beautiful passages from the haggadeh which recounts the Passover story. Hymns were sung. Laughter echoed down the long table where every inch was covered with some fabulous dish. But it was the specific traditions that were followed throughout the evening that reminded everyone what we were celebrating. At one point we had to eat a bitter herb, a symbol of the bitterness of slavery. And then there was a bucket of water filled with 10 drops of wine to symbolize the 10 plagues that fell upon the Egyptians, to convince the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.
One jolly, older member of the group had a different take on the tradition, “This is the part where people drink too much wine and we have to throw some out.”
"What an incredible experience, to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem! Very meaningful and moving! My family will also do a Passover observance, only on Black Thursday before Good Friday, to acknowledge the Jewish roots of our Christian faith. I’m so looking forward to it. Thanks for the blog. Positive and encouraging. Be safe, see you on the tube." — Matthew (Chowchilla, CA)
Reena: It is incredible being in Jerusalem during Holy week. What I have discovered, much like your family, many people here weave family traditions and create their own way of celebrating the holiday. It makes it more personal.
"Reena, I was wondering about what the Passover Seder plate blessing is all about. It looks like the plate is held over your head. What's that all about?" — M.R. (Tarzana, CA)
Reena: Great question! The plate is filled with lots of symbols. The bitter herbs symbolizes the bitterness of Egyptian slavery. The vegetable (usually parsley) is dipped in salt water during the dinner. The salt water represents the tears shed during Egyptian slavery. The brown sweet mixture is symbolic of the mortar used by Hebrew slaves to build Egyptian structures. The plate is circled around everyone's head at the table so they see themselves as the people who fled Egypt. It's also a sign of good luck.
"Ms. Ninan, Thank you very much for writing about Passover in Jerusalem. It is appreciated more than you know." — Rick
Reena: Hi Rick, Be sure to watch Fox News this weekend. My colleague Lauren Green has a great special expected to air on Sunday, April 8 at 4pm, 9pm and Midnight ET. It's called "The Passion: Facts, Fictions, and Faith."
Reena Ninan is FOX News Channel's new Middle East correspondent. Before coming to Jerusalem, Reena joined the NYC bureau of FNC as an on-air correspondent in March 2006. Click over to read her full bio.