At the BYU Jerusalem Center, Jonathan Pugh, a junior studying mechanical engineering, sang in Hebrew with his fellow classmates during Passover 2016. Their song, which the Jewish professor Ophir Yarden had taught them from the Haggadah, spoke of the sacrificing of a lamb to save Israel.
“They made it as traditional as possible,” Pugh said. “In the weeks leading up to when we had the Passover, (Yarden) taught each of us, each different group, how to do a different part of the program.”
Modern Passover celebrations begin with the “seder,” a feast consisting of 15 different steps, including reciting special prayers, eating symbolic foods and reading about Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. For modern Jews, the seder has replaced the actual sacrificing of a lamb.
Before the meal begins, each of the 10 plagues is recounted. During the recounting of the final plague, Pugh and his group participated by singing a song in Hebrew about the paschal lamb.
Pugh remarked on the difficulty of trying to sing in Hebrew.
“I think I still butchered (the song), but it was fun,” Pugh said.
After the plagues have been recounted, the seder meal is then eaten off of a special plate with six compartments for each of the symbolic foods: a hard-boiled egg, a vegetable, bitter herbs, lamb, fish and matzah (or unleavened bread).
“I thought it was interesting going through each of (the foods) to learn what each of them really was,” Pugh said. “The bitter herbs were to represent the slavery and the hardships of being in slavery and then obviously the lamb was to represent the sacrifice.”
In Pugh’s experience, the meal was also accompanied by grape juice, although more traditional meals would include wine.
All of Passover is accompanied by symbols for the Jewish people. Prior to the beginning of Passover, all leavening agents, such as yeast, and anything else that contains leaven are thrown away or given to neighbors.
“It’s because they say that leaven represents sin and so they’re trying to get rid of all the sin,” Pugh said. “Leaven can corrupt things; the unleavened bread will last for years and years and years, but any bread that has any type of leaven will only last a week or so.”
Pugh also mentioned that after the meal begins, several toasts of “L’chaim,” Hebrew for “to life,” follow in celebration of the Hebrews being liberated from slavery.
Although Easter has replaced Passover in the Christian calendar, many sources agree that Passover should hold significance for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
President Howard W. Hunter, former president of the Church, gave an address entitled “Christ, Our Passover” in the October 1985 general conference.
“As the Gospel of John makes clear, the feast of the Passover marked significant milestones during the mortal ministry of Christ,” President Hunter said.
Among these milestones, President Hunter mentioned the story of Christ’s teaching at the temple when He was 12 years old. In addition to His birth and death, Passovers during His ministry would include, according to President Hunter, cleansing the temple, performing the miracle of the fish and loaves and instituting the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
In an article published in the January 1994 edition of the Ensign, John P. Pratt, an astronomer and member of the Church, further commented on the significance of Passover to the Christian world.
Pratt explained that Christ’s death took place at approximately the same time and day as the sacrificing of the paschal lamb — between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m on the 14th day of the month Nisan in the Hebrew calendar — further solidifying the connections between the Passover and the Atonement.
As for BYU-I students, Pugh shared some thoughts for why students should commemorate Passover this year.
“I feel like it would just be good to be able to know the basics about it and to be able to know what it is and what it’s for,” Pugh said. “I feel like the more you can learn about it, the more you can see the connections it has to our Savior and to our beliefs.”
Pugh said he plans on commemorating Passover this year by studying about it in the Bible and reviewing what he learned in Jerusalem.
“While it’s not something expected or required of us, I think studying the Passover can only strengthen our understanding around the atonement,” said Madelynn Clarke, a junior studying English. “Although there are no organized events celebrating Passover on campus, students can still incorporate study into their Easter traditions.”
Students who want to learn more about Passover can read about it in Exodus 13 or at lds.org, where a selection of talks on the subject can be found.
Although BYU-I has discontinued most of the study abroad programs, BYU-I students can still apply for and join the BYU Jerusalem Center program. This can be done through any CES website by searching for travel opportunities.