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Book highlights Passover around the world

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'Passover Festival of Freedom' by Monique Polak
'Passover Festival of Freedom' by Monique Polak

In Passover Festival of Freedom, Montreal author Monique Polak reminds us to retell the story, year after year, of how our ancestors emerged from slavery to become free men and women.

Throughout the book, Polak, an author of 19 novels for young people and a teacher at Marianopolis College in Montreal, relates the story of Passover, talks about what the holiday means to her, and tells of how she spoke to dozens of people, including two Holocaust survivors, who talk about their stories.

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Polak, whose mother, now 86, is a Holocaust survivor, said that growing up, most of what she learned about Judaism was related to the Holocaust, “but when I was asked to write this book about Passover, I agreed immediately… it was time to broaden my own understanding of Jewish history and religion.”

After telling the Passover story, she talks about preparing for the holiday, the seder ceremony and traditional foods, and includes such recipes as charoset and chicken soup.
It’s when she speaks to Benzion Younger, a 90-year old Holocaust survivor, and Liselotte Ivry, also a 90-year-old survivor, that we’re reminded that the freedom to practise our religion is a great gift, and that we can endure and overcome the most challenging of circumstances.

Younger, the only one in his immediate family to survive, says he’s not as religious as he was growing up, but remembers the first Passover after the war in the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp.

He felt happy and sad at the same time.

“That seder was extremely emotional. Everyone was singing and crying. I know I was depressed, but at the same time I felt ‘I’m in a family… I’m back to the religious family I grew up with.’”

For Ivry, Passover is a time to celebrate her own survival, and the survival of the Jewish People.

She says she cherishes the Passovers of her youth, “and by celebrating [now], we remind ourselves what it means to be Jews. If we give up our customs, then nothing was worth surviving for.”

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Polak also teaches us that as we celebrate Passover in North America, people the world over, including Israel, the Netherlands, China, Nepal, Italy, Ethiopia and Iraq are celebrating with their own customs.

With numerous sidebars, photographs, recipes, drawings and short facts, the book Passover Festival of Freedom is bound to teach youngsters and adults alike how important it is to celebrate the holiday in their own way.