By Colleen Flaherty
Fort Hood Herald
Both Jewish and non-Jewish soldiers and civilians gathered at the Spirit of Fort Hood Warrior and Family Chapel Friday evening for one of Judaism's most celebrated holidays.
The traditional Passover seder began with a glass of kosher wine. Fort Hood Rabbi Capt. Moshe Lans encouraged those present to drink, "recline and relax, and enjoy our freedoms."
Passover is the celebration of the Israelites' liberation from servitude under a repressive Egyptian pharaoh and the story of Moses. According to the Jewish faith, 10 plagues rained down upon the Egyptians before the pharaoh granted the Israelites their freedom.
The idea resonated with attendees, including Holocaust survivor Rose Longwell, who hid at her aunt's house in Germany as a toddler during World War II.
The 74-year-old retired to Killeen with her husband, a late soldier.
"We weren't allowed to celebrate," said Longwell of Jews at points throughout history. "So this means a lot."
Longwell's friend, Barbara Trundle, said her mother escaped from Germany to England before the Holocaust. Passover is about celebrating freedom and culture as a community, she said. "We want to be with friends."
Friday's seder, a kind of retelling of the exodus, involved other symbolic rituals and foods, including parsley dipped in salt water, called karpas, and matzo bread.
"What we do is we re-enact and tell the story of the exodus of Egypt," said Lans, a chaplain. "God commanded that every generation you should retell the story, and this is how we obey that commandment."
Lans said karpas embodied the salty, embittered tears of the Israelites, as well as the fresh promise of a new life and the coming resurrection.
"Whether Jewish or Christian, we're waiting for the resurrection," he told the mixed crowd. "That's something we can all agree on."
Additionally, said Lans' wife, Laurie, Passover this year fell on the Jewish Sabbath as well as Good Friday, making for a kind of triple blessing.
Unleavened matzo, said the rabbi, symbolized the hasty departure of the Israelites from Egypt, once freed, and the virtue of being humble. "On a spiritual level, what puffs you up is ego."
A roasted shank bone also was served to represent the lambs that were slaughtered to protect the Israelites from the 10th plague. Like all the other plagues visited upon the Egyptians, it attacked a deity the Egyptians worshiped.
"They had to have the courage to tie it to the door, slaughter it in front of (the Egyptians) and show them that there is only one true God," said Lans.
People also ate charoset, a sweet mixture of walnuts, apples, wine and honey that represents the mortar the Israelite slaves used to build the pyramids.
Passover is one of three Jewish holidays commanded by God, Lans said. It falls in the first month of the Jewish calendar, Nisan.
Lans said the most important aspect is involving children.
"It's not for the here and now," he said. "It's for the generations to come, so we try to involve the children whenever we can. We try to tell the story and explain it to children."
The seder included the customary asking of the four questions, which explain to children the significance of the food they eat and Passover overall.
Laurie Lans said that for everyone, the seder was about making a personal connection to the past.
"You're supposed to feel like you left Egypt," she said - not just imagine the Israelites doing so.
Col. Mark Freitag, garrison commander, is not Jewish but attended the event to learn more about the Jewish faith and customs.
He called the seder invitation "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"This does reaffirm that Fort Hood is the 'great place,'" he said of the shared celebration. "It's all about people."
Herald writer Philip Jankowski contributed to this report.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at email@example.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHFortHood.