PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- More than 3,000 years ago, Israelites who had been enslaved in Egypt, fled through the desert and established a new homeland they called Israel.

Today, their tales are the foundation of Judaism and Christianity.

On Monday, Jews will celebrate the anniversary of their freedom as part of Passover, an eight-day holiday which begins with a festive meal. Throughout the eight days, Jews avoid eating bread, in order to remember their time fleeing the Egyptians when there was no time to wait for dough to rise and instead, Jews ate matzoh, according to biblical tradition. "It’s the taste of slavery and the taste of freedom," said Rabbi David Weiner of Congregation Knesset Israel in Pittsfield.

Weiner will oversee a special seder at Congregation Knesset Israel on Monday evening to kick off the holiday along with special services on Tuesday and Wednesday morning.

"It’s an exciting time," Weiner said. Passover coincides with the beginning of spring and is a marker for the changing of seasons, Weiner said. The holiday, begun at a time when Jews maintained an agricultural society, the timing of Passover had added meaning.

Passover has a "theme of renewal," Weiner said. During the exodus, Moses receives the Ten Commandments, which helps provide much of the moral underpinning in western culture today.

This year, Weiner said his message to his congregation will be on the "importance of empathy.


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"If we were slaves and we know that experience, how does that relate to the people around us? Do we see moral suffering? Do we hear their cries or are we ignoring them?"

There will be a strong message of hope connecting the plight of the enslaved Israelites to oppressed people and how others can feel trapped in a place in their own lives. The story has an "eternality" to it, Weiner said.

The exodus also has a "very strong gender piece," Weiner said. Women played a key role in initiating the flight of the Israelites from Egypt, he said.

Monday’s seder, which includes eating, singing, a reading of the four questions by children at the table, will be sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires. The seder begins at 6 p.m. though reservations were due by March 28. Weiner said it may still be possible to get a seat at a cost of $40 for adults and $20 for children.

Tuesday and Wednesday’s morning services begin at 9:30 a.m.