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About the Foundation

Passover

During one week, Jews commemorate the flight of their people from Egypt (the Exodus). In Hebrew it is referred to as Pesach (which literally means ‘to pass over’ and which later became ‘the mouth speaks’). It is an oral handing-down of the memory of these events, given that the mouth is where words and food join together. The account of the Exodus opens the Passover meal and, likewise, the different types of food eaten each narrate the ordeal of the Israelites and their passage from slavery to freedom.
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© Getty Images / Sam FeinsilverJewish family reading from the Book of Exodus before the Passover meal

The story of the Exodus

Passover draws its roots from the Hebrew bible. God announced to Abraham that his descendants would be rich and great, but that they would experience a long period of slavery before being freed. This divine prophecy came true: The Pharaoh forced Egypt’s prosperous Jewish population into slavery and condemned all their male children to death by drowning in the Nile. Moses, who was saved from the water by the Pharaoh’s daughter, returned to Egypt after many years in exile, charged with the divine mission to free the people of Israel from slavery. He asked the Pharaoh several times to release his people so they could celebrate God during a festival in the desert. The Pharaoh refused ten times and ‘ten plagues’ were inflicted on the Egyptian people, the tenth condemning their firstborn male children. Before this plague was executed, God told the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb, to eat its meat with unleavened bread and bitter herbs and to paint the doorframes of their homes with its blood. The angel sent to carry out the punishment would then see the blood and ‘pass over’ their house. Freed from oppression, Abraham’s descendants began their exodus to the Land of Israel.

Food as a narrative

Passover is one of the most important festivals in Judaism. It lasts for a week and follows specific rules and practices which must be strictly observed.

Any chametz, food that is fermented or made with leaven, is banned. It is forbidden to eat, drink or even possess any such product. During the preparations for Passover, homes are meticulously cleaned to eliminate any trace of it. It is also customary for practising Jews to use dishes and cooking pots devoted exclusively to this festival.

On the eve of Passover, firstborns fast in remembrance of the tenth plague of Egypt. Then, on the first two days, a commemorative meal, called the Seder, is eaten in the evening. It is celebrated between family and friends and children play an important role. The meal opens with the Haggadah (the account of the Exodus) and, likewise, the different types of food eaten each narrate, in their own way, the ordeal of the people of Israel and their passage from slavery to freedom. The mouth therefore becomes the place where words and food join together. Arranged on a tray, the matzo bread, the bone and the bitter herbs (horseradish, romaine lettuce or chicory) symbolise the divine commandment, while the egg represents mourning. A date, apple, walnut and wine paste, called ‘charoset’, represents the mortar and the hard labour of slavery. Next to the tray, the bowl of saline water, in which the ‘karpas’ (celery leaves or parsley) is dipped, symbolises the tears shed by the enslaved. The glasses of wine or grape juice evoke the liberation of the Jewish people.