Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Passover College Memories

I always think of this story at this time of year. I heard the story from my roommate, who was a good friend of the David in this story, and she heard the story from David. She assured me that this was a true story, but even if it isn't true, it should be.

I went to a college in Pennsylvania where about 20% of the students were Jewish. The dining hall made a special effort for the Jewish students at Passover. They had a special Passover line at the dining hall with matzah, Passover cakes and cookies and even gefilte fish.

Gefilte fish is a popular Jewish delicacy and a Passover tradition, sort of like a crab cake but made with chopped up fish held together with matzah meal and eggs. It is cooked and stored in fish broth, then is served with sliced carrots (often cooked in the same broth) and horseradish (another Passover tradition).

The gentiles working in the dining hall had no idea what gefilte fish was, and they were clearly uneasy being around this strange food. Several of them picked it up and served it using tongs held at arms' length to avoid coming into too close contact with it (I observed this myself on several occasions), but the Jews coming through the line were all eager for this holiday treat (at least for the first five or six days!).

Just about everyone who asked for the gefilte fish was Jewish, except for one fellow: an international student from mainland China. Although the name he used in America was David, he was not Jewish. He had no idea what to call this food item, but he knew what he liked. He just came into the Passover line and pointed at it. The gentiles working the dining hall picked it up at arms' length, as usual, and put it on his plate.

One day, one of them asked David, "You really eat that stuff?"

"Yeah!" David said, "It goes great with soy sauce!"

Friday, April 22, 2005

Beware the Passover Aisle!

Just a quick heads-up for those still shopping for Passover: Beware the Passover aisle! Some supermarkets are very diligent about keeping their Passover aisle stocked only with Kosher-for-Passover items, but others are very sloppy about it. In my neck of the woods, Pathmark has always been very diligent, and a new Genuardis seems to be very good, but the Acme near me has always been appalling. Not really surprising, coming from a chain that once ran a full-page ad in the Sunday paper announcing a sale on “Challah, a Passover Tradition!” Challah is a kind of bread, and the only Passover tradition related to it is not eating it!

I just got back from a last-minute shopping trip to my Acme, picking up eggs and milk before Passover starts, and I noticed that they had shelved some Hamentaschen in the Passover aisle. Hamentaschen are Purim cookies. I’ve never heard of kosher-for-Passover hamentaschen, but I gave Acme the benefit of the doubt and carefully checked the label. Not surprisingly, it’s not kosher for Passover. They’re wheat cookies, leavened with yeast. It doesn’t get any less kosher for Passover than that. It’s not the first time I’ve had this kind of problem at this Acme.

When I flagged down a clerk in the store and told him of the problem, he looked at the label and said, “It says kosher.” I told him, “It doesn’t say kosher-for-Passover. Passover is different.” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I dunno.” He did nothing about it, nor did he inform anyone.

This kind of misshelving is standard operational procedure at my Acme, and the uncaring attitude of the store clerk is also standard. Your grocery store may be the same.

Don’t assume that everything in the Passover aisle is kosher for Passover! Before you buy anything for Passover, check the label carefully. There should be a P to the right of the kosher certification symbol, or the words “Kosher for Passover” in English or Hebrew. If you can’t find those markings, it’s NOT kosher for Passover!

Caveat Pesach Emptor! Passover Buyer Beware!

Have a happy and kosher Pesach!

Passover Cooking Tips at Judaism 101:
(includes examples of Passover kosher certification marks)
Passover at Judaism 101:
Kashrut: Jewish Dietary Laws at Judaism 101: