Decatur celebrates Passover

Sasha Larson

Elliott Williams and his family enjoy matzah ball soup on the first night of Passover. The soup is Williams' favorite Passover delicacy.
Elliott Williams and his family enjoy matzah ball soup on the first night of Passover. The soup is Williams’ favorite Passover delicacy. Photo courtesy of Elliott Williams.

On Friday, April 22, Jewish families everywhere began celebrating Passover, a week-long Jewish holiday commemorating the Israelites’ freedom from Egyptian slavery.

For senior and Reform Jew Elliott Williams, the holiday marks a significant historical event in his people’s history and a time of celebration with family and friends. Williams usually attends seders, or community rituals, with chemistry teacher Debra LeDoux’s family.

“A seder’s like a fancy dinner, but also kind of a mini self-guided service,” Williams said.

At seders, families enjoy traditional Passover foods like matzah ball soup – “my favorite,” Williams said – and retell the story of the Jews’ exodus.

Williams broke down the ancient tale for us.

As the biblical story goes, the Pharoah of Egypt refused to free Jewish people, and so a plague killing of the firstborn of every household was unleashed on the Egyptians.

“The Jews were instructed to put lamb’s blood above their doors so God would “pass over” their home,” Williams said.

The next morning, the Jews left quickly, without time for their bread to rise. The bread that baked on their backs as they escaped across the desert is said to have become matzah, a large cracker-like food. This is why Jews are not allowed to eat anything that has risen during Passover.

Passover 1
Williams dislikes matzo in cracker form, as pictured here. He prefers the traditional Passover cracker when dipped in chocolate or Nutella. Photo courtesy of Elliott Williams.

The off-limits food are called “chametz,” which translates from Hebrew to mean “leavened.”

That means no bread, no pasta, no rice, no cookies or graham crackers for seven days, or as with Orthodox Jews, eight days.

“The hard part isn’t really resisting the urge to eat bread, it’s more of not accidentally eating something you’re not supposed to,” Williams said.

He enjoys the food at LeDoux seders, however, which usually include salmon and a whole lot of matzah.

The families also take turns reading from a book that tells the story of Passover and stopping in between to say prayers.

“One part of the seder involves hiding the “afikomen,” or dessert,” Williams said. “It’s really just a piece of matzah, but the parents usually hide it and the kids go looking for it and must find it before we eat dessert and finish the seder. At the LeDoux seder, the kids usually hide it – because we’re all high school age or older – and we send the adults looking for it. When we were younger though, and we went looking for it, everyone would get Silly String as a prize. We would have a Silly String war in the backyard.”

Williams appreciates customs like this and the rich culture of his religion.

“Personally, I don’t mind that [Jewish holidays don’t] get as much attention,” he said. “I actually prefer that the Jewish holidays aren’t as commercialized like Christmas is, or like Easter is. I like having it be a nice little tradition.”

Passover is just one holiday that evokes Williams’ pride in Judaism. He’s “still learning” what it means for him to be Jewish, but finds inspiration in the religion’s philosophies.

“One of its main philosophies is tikkun olam, which means ‘repairing the world,’” he said. “Our job as Jews, and as humans, really, is to do what we can to make the world a better place. For now, for the future, for our children. Helping out other people, no matter who they are or what their past is – I think that’s really important.”

 

Photos courtesy of Elliott Williams