Why Can't I Shop Local for Pesach?
This time of year, I always think about Jews living outside a Jewish centre. This time of year, more than any other, needs very specialized food. Even if (like me) they’re not looking for kosher-for-Passover replacements for everyday food, what do people do who live in small towns with no Jewish population to speak of? Do they make their own matzah? Simply go starch-free for a week? Set aside any twinges of guilt and eat what’s available? We’re told that the Seder, more so than the High Holy Days, is when Jews who might not do anything else Jewish all year, connect. The need is real.
Now, I don’t claim to be trying to live a Jewish life far from a Jewish centre. I live in Toronto, after all; just not a part of it that has a critical mass of Jews. And so I empathize with how hard it is to get ready for Pesach outside a Jewish community. If the supermarkets near me carry Matzah, it may suddenly appear on the shelves the week of the holiday, or it may not be Kosher for Passover (which, frankly, isn’t an issue to me, but that’s beside the point), or it could even be last year’s. A couple of years ago, one had a lovely display on the end of an aisle – boxes of matzah, some matzah ball mix, and boxes of Shabbat candles. This year….nothing. I did some advance scouting a couple of weeks ago, and another supermarket, one with a rich variety of “international foods” spread over several aisles and categories, had some older Matzah, but promising holes in the section, which I hoped meant fresh stock was coming. I checked today….nothing. Good thing I already made Aliyah to the north end of the city to buy what I would need.
Shopping long in advance for Pesach, knowing it will be difficult to return to the store for reinforcements, gives me low-grade anxiety. Is one box of Egg matzah enough? Will I have enough boxes of matzah meal to make Passover buns? If I make chocolate matzah bark (and you know I will!), will there be enough matzah left for one meal of matzah lasagna or two? If we run out of white (the matzah of choice for the men in my house), will whole wheat do? And why do I always forget soup Mandlen? (Yes, I know, it’s because of the year I remembered them and they were rancid, which is not only disappointing, but disgusting.) Should I have bought that second roll of frozen gefilte fish? This is the only time of year when I wish I lived in a more Jewish area.
More puzzling to me, what are the local stores of large supermarket chains here thinking? According to Elections Canada, we’re most emphatically here. Jews make up 1.4% of this decidedly non-Jewish neighbourhood. We make up 2.5% of the riding to the north of me. My son’s neighbourhood – also decidedly not Jewish - is 5.7% Jewish. Every year just before Pesach, our money leaves the area, to the detriment of the local stores. In our local Facebook groups, we trade news about where we can
find what. We offer to add each other’s Pesach grocery list to our own when we make the trek to the more Jewish areas. The first supermarket to loudly and publicly announce, early enough to make a difference, that they carry a good Passover selection would corner the market – not only from the immediate neighbourhood, but from surrounding areas where a significant number of people make the pilgrimage much farther to get what they need.
Next Year in Jerusalem, we always say. This year, starting right after Pesach, let’s put our heads together and figure out how to let our local stores know we’re here. Then, maybe next year, we can shop local.