of Massapequa has been holding services this week in honor of Passover, one of the most widely-observed holidays in the Jewish religion.
The Beth-El synagogue has been servicing the Conservative Jewish population of Massapequa for over 50 years, and is currently headed up by Rabbi Stephen Listfield, a tall, well-spoken man who clearly loves his job and congregation.
Passover is an eight-day long holiday that commemorates the story of the Biblical story of Exodus, which Rabbi Listfield explained in detail.
"Passover goes back to the Bible," he said. "The Bible says that the Israelite people happily lived in Egypt alongside everyone else, but a new Pharaoh arose, and he decided he was going to enslave the Jewish people. This went on for a couple of centuries until God decided that he wished the slaves to be free. He appointed Moses to be God's messenger, to go to Pharaoh and tell him, 'Let my people go. We're going to serve the Lord...we're no longer going to serve you."
"Pharaoh resisted, and God sent ten plagues upon Egypt," Listfield continued. "Finally, the tenth plague was the slaying of the first-born of every family of Egypt, including Pharaoh’s own home."
"At this point, Pharaoh calls Moses in haste and tells him to leave with the Israelite slaves. The next day, however, Pharaoh’s heart hardens and he pursues after the Israelites, but God has one last miracle left up his Godly sleeve. The Jews, a vagabond people running away from slavery, come to the sea with Pharaoh and his chariots and horses chasing them. Suddenly, the sea parts, and it's like dry land. The Israelites cross, and the second the last one get to the Sinai desert and the path to freedom, the sea returns and Pharaoh and his soldiers drown."
However, Listfield was quick to point out that there's a lot more to the story of Judaism.
"That's the end of the Exodus story, but a Rabbi should never say that was the end of the story," he said. "It's only just the beginning. Next, Moses and his people journeyed to Mount Sinai, where he received the Ten Commandments from God."
Those Ten Commandments helped shape the meaning of Passover and the story of Exodus to modern Jews.
"The Jewish people have a moral vision, a purpose, that I hope, ideally, that our people have tried to carry forward in these 3,400 years since the events of Exodus," he said. "Trying to represent a moral way of life."
Listfield also said that Jews believe in treating their fellow men and women as equals, no matter what their social status.
"God doesn't want people to be enslaved, or exploited, or deceived, or manipulated," he said. "No one should be wealthy enough to be able to call the shots over other people's lives. God wants all people to find their own way, to chart their own path. That's what we get out of the Biblical story."
Passover, like many aspect of Judaism, comes with a great man traditions steeped in the lore of history. For example, the centerpiece of Passover is the Seder, a festive meal that's held on the holiday's first and second night.
"The whole meal is replete with rituals and symbols of food and drink," he said. "Each aspect of which is meant to remind us of the harshness of slavery and oppression."
Some of the foods eaten at Seder include raw horseradish, whose bitter taste is meant to invoke feelings of the bitterness of slavery, and Matzah, which is unleavened bread. Matzah reminds Jews that, in their haste to flee Egypt, the Israelite didn't even have time to bake actual bread for the journey.
"We re-enact that, we live it, in order to try and think for ourselves what it was really like to be oppressed," Listfield said. "It's very heard to imagine what someone else went through...you only know something if you've actually tasted what they went through. Jews are people of memory....people of history."
This evening's Passover service at Congregation Beth-El lasted about 45 minutes, and involved prayer and joyous singing to mark one of the very most important dates on the Jewish calendar.
Resa Hauptman, a member of Congregation Beth-El, explained that Passover helps to keep her family tightly-knit.
"Basically, its a family holiday," she said. "It's not just about the religious part of it, it's about the eating, and the whole process...that the whole family gets together, and reciting the story of Exodus. We do it every year."
Hauptman's husband, Arnold, said that Passover is a tradition that's kept alive by being handed down from one generation to the next.
"It's a story that's repeated year after year," he said. "So as the kids grow up, they hear the story from the time they're infants, and you can only hope that by the time they're with their own families, they will continue with that rite of Passover. It's a very joyous holiday."