As the eight-day observance of Passover begins for Jews around the world, members of the Central Washington Jewish community will remember their ancestors’ exodus from the slavery of Egypt with food, prayer and traditions.
Significantly, they will retell the Exodus story in the present tense, because slavery and escaping from terrors in one’s homeland remain an unfortunate part of today’s world, said Rabbi Jay Shupack of Yakima’s Temple Shalom.
“With Ukraine, we still have people in exodus today. And the people are fleeing because they don’t want to be slaves to Russia,” Shupack said. “No matter when [Passover] is, there’s other things happening that relate to it.
“It wasn’t too long ago that Jews celebrated the Passover in concentration camps during the Holocaust,” he added. “It always seems to be relevant to whatever age and time you live in. There’s always some way to connect it, because it’s such a basic, fundamental human story of coming from slavery to freedom.”
This year, Passover began at sundown Friday and Temple Shalom families celebrated the start of the holiday with a Seder meal in their homes, Shupack said. A larger, communitywide Seder will be held Saturday night at the temple, he noted.
Food and drinks of the Seder
Paula Glazer Vornbrock and her husband, John, planned a Seder meal for nine in their Yakima home, with Paula preparing food for it on Thursday.
She explained the symbolism of items such as matzah, a specially baked bread that doesn’t rise. There was no time to allow bread to rise as the Jews fled from the pharaoh and his armies roughly 3,400 years ago.
“We read a scripted story before the main [Seder] meal: the Haggadah, which is the retelling of the Exodus,” Vornbrock said.
Shupack said the role of children in the Seder is important, so they understand the traditions and history of Passover.
“We’re not supposed to tell the story from the standpoint of ‘our ancestors left Egypt,’ we’re supposed to tell the story from the standpoint of ‘we left Egypt,'” he said. “We’re leaving Egypt, and we’re doing it in the first person.
“We discuss freedom and how to have more freedom in our lives, what is it that still enslaves us. Maybe we’re slaves to money, or we’re slaves to our work. Drug addicts are slaves to drugs. How do we become more free? Identify what we’re still enslaved to.”
The foods of a Seder are part of a sumptuous, festive meal celebrating the Jews’ redemption, said Shupack, who became resident rabbi of Temple Shalom in September 2020.
Items such as the bitter herb and salt water for dipping symbolize the bitterness of slavery and the tears associated with it, Vornbrock said. Haroseth — a blend of chopped apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine — is symbolic of the mortar used when Jews built storehouses for the pharaoh.
The shank bone represents the offering of a lamb, which took place in ancient times at the temple, Shupack said.
Wine and grape juice also are an important part of the meal, Vornbrock said, noting the tradition is to take a little wine out of one’s cup as each of the Passover’s 10 plagues are recited.
These special foods are only present during Passover, Shupack said, and they are different from any other time of the year. Other foods served can reflect the heritage of Jews who lived in Greek culture, Roman times, and portions of Europe and North Africa.
“It’s almost like a time capsule of Jewish history for the last couple thousand years — if you know where to look,” he added.
After enjoying a “luxurious meal” and desserts, Shupack said, the Seder concludes with blessings, prayer and songs.
Bringing the community together in Yakima
Vornbrock said she has been involved with the temple and the Central Washington Jewish Community since she and her husband moved here 42 years ago from the Midwest.
“I always wanted my children to grow up with their Jewish culture and traditions,” Vornbrock said.
She noted that Temple Shalom’s Jewish congregation has met since the 1940s, when members gathered without rabbinic leaders. Its members come from as far away as Leavenworth and Wenatchee, though most families live in the Kittitas and Yakima valleys.
Shupack and his wife, Judy Shupack, spent about 20 years leading a synagogue in Bend, Oregon, and during that time came to Yakima for various events before moving here permanently a couple of years ago.
He noted that early Christians celebrated Easter on Passover until the beginning of the fourth century, and this year the two holidays are celebrated on the same weekend. Another similarity is each religion has a celebration 50 days later — Pentecost for Christians and Shavuot for Jews.
“Our story is 3,400 years old. We still have to tell it every year, we still have to remind ourselves every year. We still have to thank God for our freedom every year, we still have to reenact it every year. You cannot take it for granted. If you take your freedom for granted, you will lose it.”