View from the Pew
Feast or famine
Uneven isle supplies of kosher food make preparing Passover meals tricky
It isn't easy to prepare the menu made in heaven, not for Jews in Hawaii where the supply of kosher food is hit and miss.
Chabad of Hawaii ordered 3,000 pounds of food from the mainland for Passover meals next week. Besides the two large communal Seder meals Monday and Tuesday, Pearl Krasnjansky will be preparing lunches and dinners for her family and people who gather for services at the Ala Moana Hotel during the eight-day observance.
Dina Yoshimi of Pearl City was delighted to see the load of luggage her parents brought when they arrived Thursday from the mainland. They brought "suitcases full" of kosher food for the family holiday celebration.
Carolann Biederman of Kaneohe made a circuit of four supermarkets in Honolulu and Windward Oahu to gather the essentials for a family Seder and meals through the week.
Yehuda Weinbaum, who opened a kosher catering and delicatessen business in Manoa in November, distributed Passover packages Thursday to people who ordered in advance from his Web page, www.oahukosher.com. It's too late for last-minute shoppers; he's closed the Manoa shop to observe the holy days. The only other kosher market in town, Mazel's in Kalihi, is closed for renovations, according to a recorded message.
Passover rituals are a celebration of the defining time in history for the Hebrew people when they were liberated from slavery in Egypt.
The menu described in Exodus, the second book of Hebrew Scripture, is filled with symbolism. The original Passover meat was lambs roasted after their blood was smeared on Hebrew door posts. God passed over those houses on the night he inflicted the 10th and final plague on Egypt, killing the firstborn child in every family. God told Moses the Israelites must make haste to leave, no time to let their bread dough rise.
So unleavened matzo is the staple in the diet. For the next week, it will take the place of pasta, pastry, cereal, rice, anything that could potentially ferment and rise. Families will clear them out of the house and clean vigorously so not a crumb remains. "The whole idea is emptying your storehouse, having faith that this year's season will be prolific," said Yoshimi.
Five-pound boxes of the crisp matzo cracker were displayed in most Safeway stores this month, one local supermarket chain that consistently stocks kosher items.
There are varieties of matzo -- plain, wheat, egg, onion -- that local shoppers aren't likely to see, said Biederman. Someone might want to explain to the store buyers that's why a glut of sodium-free matzo doesn't fly off the shelf.
Someone might educate markets that only fresh-made matzo, clearly identified as Passover matzo, is acceptable. "One year, there was matzo from the past year. That was one of the years of famine," Yoshimi recalled.
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Food for Passover consumption is held to a higher standard and has been in short supply in the islands. Here, Yehuda "Yudi" Weinbaum, left, and Yehua Broun of Yudi's Deli in Manoa come out to their makeshift overflow area of Passover food.
After one of those famine years, Temple Emanu-El launched a mail-order project, an option for members to order Passover foods from the mainland. It has since been discontinued.
"One year, there was no matzo cake meal" -- the substitute for flour -- and Yoshimi was stymied in her plan to make flour-free dessert.
"This year, Safeway had two brands of yummy macaroons, several choices," said Biederman. "For someone who likes sweets, it's hard to go a whole week without bakery." No, macaroons aren't dictated by the Bible; they're baked without flour or leavening.
There's an informal information pipeline in the Jewish community. Star Market at Kahala Mall was known for recognizing the demand for kosher food, but it just closed. The Beretania Street Foodland was another good resource, but there was a change in managers. On Thursday, only two sparse, knee-level shelves of kosher goods were to be found in the ethnic foods aisle.
Local Seder tables are more likely to have chicken than lamb or beef because frozen kosher poultry is more likely to be stocked by local markets. Biederman scouted some out at Star Market in Moiliili. It wasn't on display, but when she asked, an employee found a stash of Empire brand kosher chickens in the back. No one was aware that they had a product in demand this week, right now.
"Most clerks in grocery stores have no clue what kosher is, what Passover is, what customers might be looking for," she said. "We're a small population but we do have specific needs." Biederman and Yoshimi said it would be a good idea for local Jewish organizations to do some consumer outreach and education. "Buyers in stores should not have hesitation about approaching the Jewish community to ask," said Biederman.
Luckily not everything on the Seder menu is set in stone, so to speak. "The thing about Passover that's great is that you can individualize it," said Biederman. "You can be very creative. It's springtime. The vegetables can be lively."
Yoshimi said the Jewish shopper is always aware of the limited supply. "If you see it, you buy it," she said. But on the other hand, "Some years, when the supply is tricky, we try not to take too much, to leave some for others."
The scarcity is not news. Congregation Sof Ma'arav published a collection of members' recipes in 1989. Its title: "The When You Live in Hawaii You Get Very Creative During Passover Cookbook." The book is still available.