We all know about Passover, that holiday when we Jews whip out our flat, cracker-like matzah, talk about the massive exodus from Egypt, and drink a whole lot of Manischewitz wine. As it happens, though, there are a few other things you might want to know about Passover! Here are some facts about the holiday that you probably never knew:
- Passover is an oldie.
Judaism celebrates a lot of holidays. Some are fairly recent, such as Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, founded only 66 years ago when Israel was declared a state. Others go back a bit further. Hanukkah, for example, took place during the second Temple, dating back to the second century BCE. But the oldest of them all? Passover! The very first Passover was celebrated in Egypt itself more than 3,300 years ago and marked the first holiday the Jews ever celebrated. The Jews of the time were commanded to bring the first Paschal offering, continuously brought on Passover until the destruction of the second Temple – but today, the holiday is still celebrated across the world.
- The world’s biggest matzah ball was really big.
You thought your mother made them well? Well she’s up against some competition. The world largest matzah ball was made in the heart of New York City in 2009. Chef Anthony Sylvestry managed to make a matzah ball measuring 22.9” wide and weighing a whopping 267 lbs! The giant Passover creation, pictured above, was made in order to raise money for a New York Knicks vs. Tel Aviv Maccabi charity basketball game, and money raised from the the game went to Migdal Ohr, an orphanage in Northern Israel. Now that’s a matzah ball that’s gonna need a whole lot of chicken soup to accompany it!
- Sometimes there are seven foods on the seder plate.
The traditional seder plate is a circular plate with six spots on it, each to hold a different symbolic food to be eaten during the Passover meal. In recent years, a new tradition has begun to form – a seder plate with seven spots instead of six. The new seventh food? An orange. Professor Susannah Heschel introduced this practice in the 1980s to signify support of and solidarity with gay Jews and other marginalized peoples. The orange is said to signify fruitfulness, and the action of spitting out the seeds represents “spitting out” hate and discrimination in our communities. Learn more about this tradition and other modern additions to the seder plate.
- Passover is a day of commemoration.
On Passover 2,000 years ago, a nation of Jews escaped Egypt through the splitting of the Red Sea. On Passover 149 years ago, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. Many Jewish Americans were in synagogue at the time of the assassination, both to observe Passover and to celebrate the end of the Civil War, and the American Jewish Historical Society notes that synagogue bimahs "were quickly draped in black and, instead of Passover melodies, the congregations chanted Yom Kippur hymns."
- Nepal is home to the world’s largest Passover seder.
I’ve always eaten my Passover seder with my family and some cousins. When I was 10 years old, 24 people attended our seder, and I felt sure that must have been the biggest seder in the world. I bragged about it to my friends for months! Well, I wasn’t too far off – just about 975 people away. The world’s largest Passover seder, boasting more than 1,000 participants, is held yearly in Kathmandu, Nepal. Why Nepal? The country is overflowing with young Israeli travelers who have recently finished their army service, and when it comes time for Passover, some want to be reminded of their mom’s chicken soup or experience the familiar crunch of matzah. Other attendees simply hear of this massive event and feel compelled to travel to Nepal to experience the holiday in such a unique way. Rabbis fly in to lead the seder, and tens of participants show up in advance to help prepare for the guests. Now that’s a lot of company!
Whether you are planning to make giant matzah balls, eat orange slices, or invite 1,000 guests to your seder, I wish you a happy and meaningful Passover!