The Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families is also available in a beautiful PDF version
For many Jews, Passover is the most important of all Jewish holidays. In fact, more Jewish Americans observe Passover than any other Jewish holiday – even more than light Hanukkah candles. In Hebrew the name of the holiday is Pesach, with a guttural sound forming the final consonant of the word – the same sound that ends the name of the famous composer, Bach.
Passover’s popularity is partly because it’s the holiday in which we retell the foundational story of Jewish history, the Exodus from Egypt. If you’re familiar with the Exodus story, the holiday is named for the part of the story in which God is getting ready to smite the Egyptians with the tenth and final plague. God instructs the Hebrew slaves to mark their homes and warns them that the Angel of Death will be sweeping across all of Egypt, killing the first born sons of all that live, but that the Angel will pass over and spare the first born sons of every home that bears the designated mark.
Passover is also a big deal because many Jewish families come together to share a special celebratory meal (called the seder – more on that in a bit). Imagine a holiday with the importance of Thanksgiving, but without the breaded stuffing (more on the food rules of Passover later).
Passover is a week-long festival, usually falling somewhere in March or April. (The Jewish calendar is based mainly on the lunar calendar, and so Jewish holidays fall on different dates on the secular American calendar from year to year.) Part of the Jewish community celebrates Passover for seven days, and the other part for eight. Why? Because it’s very Jewish to differ over details! (We’ll answer this question more seriously below.)