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ETHERIDGE: Welcoming the stranger at Passover
Denise Etheridge

Passover, like Good Friday and Easter Sunday, is just days away. I don’t know about you, but the spring holiday season snuck up on me this year. My family and friends are mostly doing well, and everyone is busy with work or school. That is to be celebrated. Still, I watch the news with sadness seeing the war in Ukraine unfold so tragically, wondering what lies ahead for this newly displaced population of war refugees.

A recent count claims that 4.2 million refugees fled Ukraine as of last week, while an estimated 6.5 million people were displaced within the war torn country as of mid-March.

Several generations ago my father, uncle and grandmother were war refugees. They were given financial and emotional support to start new lives here in the United States. They were strangers in a strange land and were welcomed.

The story of the exodus is retold and relived each year as Jewish families rejoice at the seder table on Passover. We are commanded to welcome the stranger for we were strangers in the land of Egypt.

My husband and I try to invite acquaintances along with relatives and close friends to our Passover meal each year.

These acquaintances often become better friends following the occasion. They don’t stay strangers for long.

When my husband was active duty Air Force, we often had young airmen and women join us at Passover since they were far from home.

Passover, or Pesach, will start at sundown on Friday, which is the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nisan.

The word Pesach means to pass over. It refers not just to the exodus, but also to the angel of death that passed over the houses of the Hebrews during the final plague. This was the slaying of the firstborn of Egypt. The Hebrews marked their homes with the blood of a sacrificial lamb, so they would be spared from the plague.

At Passover, we retell the story of the Exodus by reading from a text called the Haggadah.

We begin with the youngest child at the seder asking the four questions to show why Passover is different from all other nights.

These are:

1. On all other nights we eat either bread or matzah. Why, on this night, do we eat only matzah? Matzah is sometimes called the bread of affliction.  The story goes that because the Hebrews had to leave Egypt in haste, they did not have time to allow their bread to rise.

2. On all other nights we eat herbs of any kind. Why, on this night, do we eat only bitter herbs? Bitter herbs remind Jews of the bitterness of slavery.

3. On all other nights, we do not dip our herbs even once. Why, on this night, do we dip them twice? Herbs, or greens like parsley, are dipped into salt water. This reminds us of the tears shed during enslavement.

4. On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining. Why, on this night, do we eat while reclining? In ancient times, free men and women reclined during feasts. So, we are encouraged to recline at the seder table.

The seder plate holds ritual foods to help tell the Passover story.

A hard-boiled egg is symbolic of renewal. A shank bone symbolizes the Paschal lamb.

There are bitter herbs, maror, usually horseradish, to denote the bitterness of slavery. Sweet charoset – a mixture of apple, raisins, nuts, sweet wine and cinnamon – symbolizes the mortar the slaves used to build the pyramids. Karpas, or greens like parsley, is dipped into the salt water.

We have a cup of untouched wine on the table, Elijah’s cup, in honor of the prophet.

During the seder we open the front door to permit Elijah to join the seder.

In my family, we also place Miriam’s cup on the table. This is a relatively new tradition meant to honor women. Miriam – Moses’ sister – was a prophetess in her own right. The cup is filled with water because, as legend has it, a well of water followed Miriam as she and her fellow Hebrews wandered in the desert.

Another fun tradition is for children to search for the Afikomen, the middle matzah that is taken from the seder plate and hidden for a lucky child to find.

So, if you celebrate Passover, “Chag Sameach!”

If you celebrate Easter, Happy Easter! And if you’re not religious, I wish you a happy spring. For everyone, I pray for peace.

Denise Etheridge is a staff writer for The Walton Tribune and a Newton County resident. Her email address is