It’s that time of year when I start to receive calendars from different Jewish organizations, each beautifully designed and intended to remind me of their outstanding work and wish me health and happiness in the new year. I appreciate the calendars and sometimes respond to the fundraising requests, but even if I never looked at one again, I’d know an important Jewish holiday was coming by the matzo display in my local supermarket.
I used to live in Manhattan, which is a Jewish city. You never had to worry about finding a decent bagel—boiled, not baked—or real belly lox—not Nova smoked salmon. There are some suburbs near the city where I live now that have large Jewish populations and I’m sure you can find real Jewish food there, but I live in the downtown core where the selection is far more limited. Look at the supermarket shelves and you’ll quickly understand the ethnic breakdown: lots of pastas and sauces speak to the Italian influence. Foods that reflect the tastes of a large Latin American population increasingly dominate shelf space; I’ve become a convert to strong imported coffees, chickpeas, and Goya-brand cookies, as well as some Indian delicacies. A display of Halal meats indicates the importance of the growing Muslim community. But of Jewish food there’s not so much. You can find some Seasons sardines and Kedem juices and Manischewitz soups, but beyond them not much. Unless, of course, you count the matzo.
I’m not a big matzo fan and usually don’t eat more than a small piece at the first Seder, but I understand why my more observant friends joke that it is the bread of affliction. It’s not a staple of my diet throughout the year, but when my local supermarket sets out an attractive display of different varieties of matzo—egg, and whole wheat, chocolate, and more—I know a holiday is coming. And not just Passover. They celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah and I wouldn’t be surprised to find them on display to remind us that Purim or Shemini Atzeret is upon us. I often want to ask the manager if he thinks Jews eat matzos three meals a day, every day, but I save my time with him to argue about expired coupons. And although it’s easy to make fun of this misconception of what Jews eat on our holidays, at the end of the day, it’s very well intentioned on the part of the folks who manage my local supermarket, some of whom probably have very little interaction with Jews outside of their work life. That’s why, in addition to my Puerto Rican coffee and Italian anchovies, my Indian paneer and British water biscuits, I’ll be stocking up for the new year by purchasing a fresh box of matzos.
After retiring from a career in public relations, Kathryn Bloom went back to school and received a PhD in literature from Northeastern University in 2018. She now teaches at several Boston-area institutions and writes critical articles and essays for a variety of publications.