BANGOR, Maine — Rabbi Bill Siemers believes that Passover is all about the questions.
“The seder’s about the questions and, of course, the food,” he said Friday as members of Congregation Beth Israel prepared for the Passover seder scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. More than 120 members of the Conservative shul and the Bangor community were expected to attend the first night of the seven-day observance.
“We’re going to have some Pesach trivia and a few true and false questions,” Siemers said.
The important question that will be asked at every seder around the world is: Why is this night different from all other nights?
No matter where Jews gather for the traditional meal, all will use the Haggadah, a compilation of biblical passages, prayers, hymns and rabbinical literature that tells of Moses leading his enslaved people to freedom. Literally translated, Haggadah means “narration” and the text reads like a script, with diners reading different parts.
The Passover story begins more than 3,000 years ago when the Egyptian empire enslaved the Jews. According to the biblical story, God instructed Moses to demand that the Pharaoh “let my people go.”
When Pharaoh refused, God set upon Egypt 10 plagues or curses. The last, from which the holiday takes its name, was the slaying of every firstborn son.
Each Hebrew family preparing to flee the land slaughtered a lamb and used its blood to mark the doorposts of their homes. An angel “passed over” those houses, sparing the firstborn. When Pharaoh lost his only child, he told Moses to take his people out of Egypt forever.
To commemorate their time as slaves and the freedom that followed, the seder includes eating matzah or unleavened bread because the Jews left Egypt in such haste there was no time to allow the bread to rise. The seder includes bitter foods, such as horseradish, to remind them of the bitter years in slavery, and charoset, a sweet mixture of fruit and red wine, to remind them of the sweet taste of freedom.
Traditionally, seders have lasted three or four hours. Two years ago, author Robert Kopman published “ The 60-Minute Seder,” designed to shorten the Passover meal.
“And, we will sing late into the night,” he said.