Celebrating Passover means food

The annual Jewish celebration of Passover, this year on April 19, is deeply connected to food. But this year, some traditional Passover foods have gotten a little tougher for locals to find.

The recent closing of Aaron’s Glatt Kosher Market in Clairemont Mesa has some locals unsure about where to go for kosher foods, and in March, Manischweitz, the number one maker of matzah in the world, announced that for the first time in 68 years, it would not produce Tam Tams, its famous bite-sized line of matzah.

Other companies have stepped in to produce the matzah crackers, but the company didn’t have enough time to produce its full line of products this year due to a delay in installing a new oven in its New Jersey production facility.

Passover, (Pesah or Pesach in Hebrew) written about in the Old Testament, is the most important holiday festival in Judaism. Beginning April 19 and lasting eight days, (seven days in Israel) Passover commemorates the liberation by Moses of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt nearly 3,300 years ago.

The celebration of Passover, also known as “The Feast of Unleavened Bread,” is deeply connected to food. To remember the suffering of the Hebrews and their quick departure from Egypt, which did not allow enough time for their bread to rise, Jews are commanded to eat matzah which is bread without yeast, and to abstain from eating, owning or deriving any benefit from chametz which are wheat, spelt, rye, barley and oats. The morning before Passover, a thorough search of the house is conducted and any chametz found must be burned or sold to a non-Jew.

After the chametz deadline, only kosher for Passover foods may be used. Kosher foods must conform to specific Jewish dietary laws or Kashrut, which comes from the Hebrew word for “fit” or “proper.” Products which are suitable for the holiday can typically be recognized by the OU (Orthodox Union) symbol followed by a P, which is the most widely accepted mark.

Proprietors Sam and Rachel Barness of Renaissance Produce at 8935 Towne Centre Dr. are currently stocking a large variety of Kosher for Passover products. Sam Barnesssaid that recently, several of the large supermarket chains have been experiencing shortages of many popular products such as cooking oil, mayonnaise, ketchup, duck sauce and chocolate chips. He said, “We have had to make trips to Los Angeles to get these products for our customers.”

On the first night of Passover, a ceremonial meal called the Seder is served. Six items are arranged precisely in order on the Seder plate and each plays a “hands-on” role in retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt, which is the purpose of the meal.

The Seder is unlike any other meal or family gathering. Jews sit around the Seder table and go back in time.

During the celebration, they read from a sacred book called the Haggadah, Hebrew for “a telling.” Unlike the Bible, the Haggadah has evolved over the years and continues to evolve with each family that uses it. The central theme is the delivery of the people of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Rabbi Michael Berk, of Congregation Beth Israel said, “It starts from the earliest part of the Biblical history and explains how the Jews got to Egypt, were enslaved and then liberated.” It also contains prayers, songs, instructions for carrying out the Seder, Psalms and can include just about any other tool for conveying the story of the Exodus.

Raquel Benguiat of the United Jewish Federation of San Diego County said this year she will celebrate the first night of Passover with her family. She said, “We follow the Haggadah which is a big part of the celebration and every year we change it. We change the design, we add different songs, we switch a little bit the order of the songs, and the prayers. Some people bring their favorite Passover recipes and we add them.”

The Torah tells Jews to count the days from Passover to Savu’ot, which is a festival intended to remind Jews that their freedom from slavery was not complete until they received the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Passover’s name comes from the last of the Ten Plagues visited upon the Egyptians in which all firstborn male children were killed. The Israelites marked the doors to their houses with blood from a slaughtered lamb and were “passed over” by the Angel of Death.

Aside from commanding Jews to remember the date of the exodus from Egypt, the Torah requires that Jews pass on these memories to the next generation. Vehigaita le’vanecha is Hebrew for “you shall tell your children.”

Berk said that one of the secrets of Jewish survival was the passing down of tradition from generation to generation, which encourages adherence and loyalty to the group."With Passover, it’s actually telling the story of how we came to be as people,” he said. Jews mention the Exodus out of Egypt in every prayer service. Berk said, “This is the great act that puts us in debt to God.”