Shopping for Passover, 2009

Yes, it’s that time again. We can no longer hide from the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Passover is less than a week away, and there is no avoiding the inevitable hysteria that it generates. I remember how, as a young child, this was my favorite time of year. Ah, youth…

There are two aspects to the annual shopping experience that have been hard for me to avoid this year, and the first one, not surprisingly, is the cost. Rare is the year when I don’t find myself horrified by the cost of this holiday. The much-documented and horribly lamentable tendency for merchants (yes, our own) to use Passover to raise prices beyond all rhyme and reason is bad enough any time, but at no time more than this year. I am, thank God, employed, and able to buy what I need and more in order to have two large Seders with my wife, family and friends. But as I go about the business of buying what it takes to do that, I am, I must admit, not understanding how many in our community are coping with the special economic circumstances of this year. This is a phenomenally expensive holiday, and the incredible proliferation of kosher for Passover foods (totally not the case when I was younger) has only served to make it more so.

And then there’s the issue of just how crazy one wants to go in the cause of “doing this holiday right.” In an era when the stricter application of the law seems to have become normative in large swaths of the Jewish community, particularly here in New York, there seem to be no boundaries anymore.

I recently did a first reconnaissance trip to the dairy department of one of our local Kosher supermarkets here in Queens- too soon to buy, but not too soon to see what’s out there, and available. I have a pretty high threshold when it comes to religious craziness, but I think I found my limit this year- a product I just will not be able to buy lest I lose respect for myself. In place of the usual brands of milk- most of which, if I’m not mistaken, procure totally acceptable kosher for Passover certification- a new brand appeared with the title of- hold on to your (black) hats- Machmirim Milk . Ah, how to translate… Milk for the religiously strict.

I stood there in the supermarket- blocking the aisle, I’m sure- just stunned. Is this supposed to imply that if you just buy, say, a regular dairy’s milk that carries the O-U for Passover, or some other recognized kosher certification, that you’re somehow less caring about being kosher? And just what makes it milk for the religiously strict? Is the cow particularly pious, or is the dairy farm in New Square?

Yes indeed, ladies and gentlemen, Passover approaches, in all of its craziness. The real challenge, as I see it, is to try and remember that, behind the expense, and the excesses, there is a religious festival here of enormous significance. We once were slaves, now are free, and we eagerly await the final redemption that will liberate us from the indignities of this world.

Including Machmirim Milk, I hope…

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.