How Canadians are celebrating Passover

Julia Hornstein
Published: April 5, 2023

Canada is proud to be multicultural and the home to newcomers of diverse religious beliefs and backgrounds. Under the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, Canadians, regardless of their immigration status, are guaranteed freedom of thought, belief, and expression. Similarly, the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the ground of religion, as does the Charter.

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Canada’s Jewish population

According to the 2021 census from Statistics Canada, there are 335,295 Canadians that identify as Jewish by religion. Between 1980 and 2021, more than 91,000 Canadian residents who identified as Jewish were immigrants. Six countries contributed to nearly 62% of Canada’s immigrant Jews by religion: Israel (19.0%), the United States (12.6%), Ukraine (8.3%), Russia (8.2%), Morocco (7.8%) and South Africa (6.8%).

The Canadian Jewish population is highly concentrated geographically. More than 98% of Canada’s Jews live in only five provinces: Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba and Alberta. Nearly half of Canada’s Jews live in Toronto and nearly one-quarter in Montreal.

What is Passover?

Passover, or Pesach, commemorates the Exodus of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt under the leadership of Moses, which was believed to have occurred around 1300 BCE. The Exodus story is one of the most important events in the formation of the people of Israel and it represents freedom, liberation, and redemption.

According to the Book of Exodus, God sent ten plagues to Egypt when the Pharaoh refused to let the Jewish people leave. The final plague caused the death of Egypt’s first-born sons, except for the sons of the Jewish people, who were “passed over”. This plague finally persuaded the Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go.

Passover typically takes place in March or April, depending on the lunar-based Hebrew calendar. The holiday is usually celebrated for 7 or 8 days, depending on the family tradition.

One of the most important Passover rituals is for Jewish people to remove all leavened food products (known as chametz) from their home before the holiday begins and abstain from eating any leavened food products until the holiday is over. Instead of bread, Jewish people eat matzah. According to the tradition, this is because the Hebrews had to flee Egypt so quickly that there was no time for their bread to rise.

Passover in Canada

Jewish families in Canada celebrate Passover in the same way people do around the world, with food and family gatherings. The first and last days of the holiday are particularly important, and include special blessings and prayers, attending synagogue and reading from the Torah, and eating a ceremonial meal.

On the first two nights of Passover is the celebration called the “Seder”, which is the ceremonial meal. The Seder consists of mandatory prayers, blessings, readings, songs, and eating symbolic foods. The book used for this celebration is called the Haggadah, and the purpose of the Seder is to retell the story of how the Jewish people escaped Egypt. The last day of Passover is also marked by a Seder meal to close the period of observance.

Although Passover is not a public holiday in Canada, most Jewish businesses and organizations will remain closed during the holiday.

Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement to commemorate Passover, in which he said that “For all Canadians, Passover is an opportunity to celebrate Canada’s Jewish community and the many contributions that Jewish Canadians have made – and continue to make – to our country”.

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