The traditional Passover seder plate features six symbolic foods that retell the
story of the Exodus from Egypt.
Food is at the center of
this rich Jewish tradition
By Lisa Alcalay Klug
DURING PASSOVER, JEWS around the
world recall our ancient Exodus from Egypt
with a beautiful and extravagant ritual meal
replete with meaning and four glasses of wine.
Known as the seder, it features readings, songs
and prayers, a long, delicious dinner and even
a game to find a piece of hidden matzo called
the afikomen. We share the evening with family, friends, neighbors, Jews and non-Jews
alike. One precept, recited each year, doubles
as the invite: “May all who are hungry come
It’s part of the sage wisdom characterizing
nearly all of our holidays: “We survived. Let’s
eat.” And we do, again and again, throughout
this annual eight-day festival—but not just
All leavened foods are forbidden, including
breads and cakes, and all flour. Grains, grain
alcohol and beer are also off-limits. And some
Jews avoid corn, beans and other legumes.
Permitted are kosher meats, poultry, eggs,
The Costco Connection
Costco features a wide variety of kosher-for-Passover foods online at Costco.com
and in select warehouses. Certified-kosher
foods are available in most warehouses
and on Costco.com throughout the year.
certain vegetables and fruits, as well as dairy
and other processed foods marked “KOSHER
FOR PASSOVER.” Our main sustenance is
matzo, the “bread of affliction,” which the
ancient Israelites baked quickly before leaving
Egypt. As they escaped centuries of slavery,
there was no time to let the dough rise.
It all means that, during Passover, many
of us become extremely concerned with eating
and with feeding our guests. So while we
commemorate our liberation from oppression, we purchase vast quantities of food. And
some—that would be me—experience the
bonus of increased serotonin levels upon the
mere sight of a full pantry and refrigerator.
For many Jews, Passover can be the most
expensive holiday. An individual easily shells
out $300-plus on preparations; a family of
four or more, north of $1,000. Not surprisingly, that big bargain haven on the horizon
beckons. For legions of Jews, Costco has
become an integral part of Passover.
Rav Shmuel, a pop singer and Hasidic
rabbi in Monsey, New York, spends at least
$3,000 to feed his family of eight, his parents,
his sister’s family and other visitors. He says,
“Before Passover, in my neck of the woods, it’s
common to see rabbis and shopping carts
filled with kids streaming through Costco.”
For Michael Berlin, director of the
Glaucoma Institute–Beverly Hills, the annual
“kosher-for-Passover Costco run” means heading straight for the fresh fish. “Then, I turn left
for produce and eggs, look for frozen kosher
chicken, turn left again for dates, check the
[end of aisle displays] for Passover items, gather
up the flowers and head for the shortest line.”
His haul includes seven dozen eggs and
four dozen roses for his sister. Over the first
two nights of Passover, she hosts Berlin, his
wife and more than three dozen guests. “It’s a
real mechayieh [in Yiddish, this translates to a
very enjoyable experience] to have kosher
products at Costco,” says Berlin.
Kim Amzallag, an advertising executive
and member of Manhattan Sephardic
Congregation, says her annual Passover excursion to the Costco in Queens doubles as
“fun bonding” for her family of five. “We ‘
pilgrimage’ every year. It is part of our ritual.”
Her bounty? Paper goods, olive oil, zip-lock-ing plastic bags, aluminum foil and mineral
water. She also stockpiles cleaning products
pre-Passover, when observant Jews scour
every surface, hunt through closets and drawers, and launder clothing and linens to remove
all traces of leaven, which spiritually represents negative ego.
These traditions extend into the heartland. “For me, shopping at Costco has become
as much a part of the holiday as the search for
chametz,” says Heidi Budaj, director of Jewish
life and learning at the Jewish Community
Center of Metropolitan Detroit, referring to
the Hebrew term for leaven. Budaj is a married mother of five children ranging in age
from 16 to 23. She reports, “All of them are
ravenous, and each roams in packs of eight to
10 young animals.”
She relies on Costco’s low prices for the
“truckloads” of matzo her gang consumes, as
well as eggs for making enormous amounts of
matzo brei, aka Jewish French toast.
In greater Kansas City, the Jewish
Federation feeds Costco matzo and gefilte fish
to 300-plus at its community-wide seders.
“My car was so full, I couldn’t get one more
grocery item in it,” says women’s division
director Beverly Jacobson.
As repeat seder-goers know, the ritual
meal concludes with a vision of world peace
and the hope of “next year in Jerusalem.”
Sounds fabulous to me. C
Lisa Alcalay Klug is an award-winning journalist and author of Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide
for Every Member of the Tribe (Andrews
McMeel, 2008, www.cooljewbook.com).