Beginning sundown Friday, April 3, Jews around the world will be celebrating Passover, the holiday that commemorates the story of the exodus of the Hebrew slaves from their imprisonment in ancient Egypt.
All Jewish holidays have an important food–related tradition. Whether it is by eating particular foods, consuming doughnuts on Chanukah, or by completely abstaining from all foods and drinks during Yom Kippur. Passover is a combination of both consuming and abstaining as the holiday calls for not eating any form of leavened bread (chametz) as well as holding ritual meals — Seders —on the first two nights of Passover (first night only if you live in Israel).
The Seder meal is really the focal point of the holiday. Yet, while all Jews are recalling the exact same exodus story and following the 15-steps as guided by the Haggadah (traditional text used during the meal), the customs and traditions differ from country to country. We spoke with a few practicing members of the Jewish community from to learn more about some of the diverse Passover customs from around the globe.
Who eats eggs only for the main course? Which community uses a spring onion to beat their loved ones during the Seder? Who adds a little sprinkling of dust to their charoset? Find out below.
If you’ve never been to a Persian or Afghani Seder, be prepared for a light beating on the back or shoulder during the song ‘Dayenu’. The custom of using scallions to hit each other during the singing is to symbolize the slaves being whipped by their taskmasters in Egypt. If you’re a guest at Ian Aronovich’s Seder in New York, you may want to be extra alert. “When we sing Dayenu, we run around the room and beat each other violently with green onions!”
Syrian Jews have a custom of starting the storytelling aspect of the Haggadah by taking the matzah used during the Seder, placing it into a special bag resembling a knapsack, and throwing it over their shoulders. They then proceed to recite a verse in Hebrew about leaving the desert in haste.
“The guests at our table will ask in Arabic, “What are you carrying (matzah), where are you are you coming from (Egypt) and where are you going to (Jerusalem)," Elise Askenazi explained. “That is with the exception of my Kentucky-born and raised mother who always says she is coming from Louisville!”
Jews from Hungary like to bring the bling to their Passover meal by decorating their Seder table with gold and silver jewelry. The explanation offered for this custom is that the Israelites were given the precious metals by the Egyptians to hasten their exodus from the land.
The Jews from Aden in Yemen, known as the Adeni community, historically have eaten eggs as the main course during Seder night.
“A range of different types of egg would be available including some sort of egg cake consisting of egg and chopped potatoes, fried egg, omelettes, and of course hardboiled egg,” said Guy Young who hails from North London’s Adeni community. “Nowadays most of the Adenim have a more substantial main meal during Seder night while a few Adeni families still continue the traditions of their ancestors and eat egg!”
It is customary for Jews of all backgrounds to spill 10 drops of wine from their wine cups when the 10 plagues are mentioned. The Adeni community has developed this tradition even further.
“We pour 10 drops of wine to represent the 10 plagues from one glass into another, said Tikki Sagiv, “and then we dispose of that glass in our garden to cast away the plague onto our enemies.”
Check out more unique cultural Passover traditions from around the globe.
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