Passover, the seven-day festival celebrating the Israelites' release and exodus from Egypt, begins this evening at sundown.
Also known as the Festival of Freedom, Passover is the oldest of the Jewish festivals, and probably the best known.
According to the Book of Exodus, about 3,000 years ago when the Israelites were still slaves of the Egyptians under Pharaoh Ramses II, Moses was told by God to go to the pharaoh and demand he set the Jews free. When pharaoh refused, Moses warned him that God would severely punish the people of Egypt if he did not obey. When Ramses II continued to ignore His demands, God set 10 plagues upon the people of Egypt.
The first nine plagues were ignored by the pharaoh. The last of the terrible plagues was the slaying of the first born. To protect themselves, the Jews were instructed to mark their homes with lamb's blood, so that God would recognize them, and "pass over" their homes. After this pharaoh agreed to release the Jews.
Jews observing the Passover holiday abstain from yeast products, including bread and beer, to commemorate the hasty departure of the Israelites who tradition says had no time to let their bread rise before their hasty departure from Egypt.
The Passover feast, or Seder, has symbolic foods at the family table. Wine, unleavened bread or matzos, and bitter herbs are served to dramatize the Jewish forefathers in Egypt as well as the emancipation from slavery under the leadership of Moses. Younger Jewish children are instructed in the history and customs of their people and they must ask at least four specific questions concerning the four promises made by God to the Israelites.
The Last Supper, the traditional source of the sacrament of communion, was the special Jewish feast meant to initiate the Passover celebration.
Passover will continue for seven days, through April 2.