By Shari Spark
Special to HAKOL
Preparing for Pesach was much easier in the time of the ancient Israelites. You set aside a lamb, planned to share it with your neighbor, roasted it whole and ate it with bitter herbs and matzah.
These days, the seder is an extravagant affair requiring online searches, scouring cookbooks and calling relatives for the newest, most gourmet and best of Bubbie’s recipes. Would that it was only the simple meal of the lamb, maror and matzah! How many courses? Soup and fish? Soup or fish? One dessert? Did you know Aunt Sadie’s vegan and gluten free?
In order to fulfill the mitzvah of a “kosher Pesach,” finding the required ingredients becomes a full-out scavenger hunt. Having grown up in a small town, and having lived in smaller Jewish communities across America, I have encountered two primary options: Shop from store to store, over and over again, in your own community (the hunter/gatherer method). Or, travel out of town to a near-"ish," larger kosher market and get everything in one swoop (the safari method, and my preferred shopping option).
And so, I became curious as to how many others living in the Lehigh Valley also leave to shop for Pesach, armed with coolers, cloth shopping bags and cartons, for the trek to a shopping galaxy, far, far away. My first query was to our annual Facebook group: Lehigh Valley Passover Shoppers. Yes – it’s a real thing where we ask each other who has found potato starch or recommend the best way to peel hardboiled eggs. The group overwhelmingly responded that they go out of town for at least part of their shopping:
• “ShopRite in Philadelphia, but I mostly get deliveries from my parents who shop there.”
• “ACME in Narberth – good meat prices if you watch the sales.”
• “The Monsey area of Rockland County, New York, has three kosher supermarkets that have everything our local stores don’t.”
• “I shop first locally since you never know what is here from year to year. Then to Rockland Kosher Supermarket. NOW can everyone stop talking about Pesach? I am not ready to start yet!”
For those who stay in town, many wish they could go somewhere with more selection and better prices, but find shopping here “doable."
I am a dedicated out-of-town Pesach shopper, usually to Philadelphia. Over the years, the journey has included friends along for the ride (and sometimes other people’s lists … “Can you get me a jar of apricot jam?” "If you see sunflower oil, get me three.” This tactic is known among Passover buyers as "symbiotic shopping").
Occasionally, you find people who have fashioned Lehigh Valley Pesach consumerism into an outright science. They have a PhD (Passover hasn’t Defeated me). The summit of kosher for Passover shopping for them is a trip to Brooklyn, and “if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.” The experience of shopping amongst so many "landsmen" invigorates these doctoral candidates with a “feeling like nowhere else!” The ambience is equaled by the quality, selection and value of the Passover products that can be had all in one location. I tried to get my PhD last year. Let’s just say it was not the rewarding experience had by others (and honestly, who can wait in line to park and pay equal to the time it actually takes to shop?).
Whether on the road or at local stores, may your Passover shopping be rewarding. Try to remember that the important part of Pesach is sharing the seder at a table of family and friends, and in the end, no one will care if you have one dessert or three, soup and fish, turkey or brisket (all not true …they do care and they will tell you so).
Thank you to the respondents for their input. No participants were unduly stressed out in the writing of this piece. A Happy and Kosher Pesach to all!