It is ironic. As the Jewish community celebrates the Festival of Freedom the featured food of the holiday is matzah. Another term for matzah is lechem oni, bread of affliction. Made from nothing but flour and water, the most basic ingredients, some explain that matzah earned the name bread of affliction because it is supposed to be a food that even the poorest could afford.
Why then is matzah among the most expensive foods that a traditional Jew eats? Regular, machine made matzah costs over $3.50 a pound at full retail. Luckily it is featured as a loss leader this time of the year. Shmurah matzah is well over $20.00 a pound at Kroger in Whitehall, the single local supermarket to carry it. Some argue that the handmade shmurah is the only matzah to be used to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah. For others this bread is a means of hidur mitzvah, beautifying the mitzvah to make its observance more special. For either group, though, when one must spend more for a matzah than one would for kosher prime rib, it is absolutely crazy.
There are options of course. One could opt not to observe the tradition of hidur mitzvah. For many, including this writer, not to observe mitzvot as beautifully as one could, would be wrong.
One could also find new sources.
Years ago, when this writer lived in Denver, a local synagogue sponsored a matzah bakery that was open to the community. By baking matzah themselves, participants saved an enormous amount of money. Rather than paying nearly $30 a pound in Denver, the participants received several slices for $10 after they helped prepare matzah at the communal oven. It was fun, and it was exciting to participate in this aspect of holiday preparation. It would be wonderful if the same kind of program could be begun in Columbus. This author has already been tasked by one rabbi to see if a source could be found for flour that has been guarded against moisture from the time the grain was harvested, the key ingredient. If so, perhaps a matzah communal bakery may be available for next year in Columbus. Time will tell if this option is viable.
Another immediate option is to find a source for less expensive matzah. A couple of years ago it was thought that the matzah sold by the KC Kosher Coop was a great way to save money. It was then, and the website now also features a wide range of kosher for Passover foods to meet the needs of any kosher consumer. There are thousands of products available at the site, and orders are made on line there several time each year. There is also now a local store that sells more affordable Shmurah Matzah. Costco, the discount giant, features several kosher for Passover foods including not only shmurah matzah for only $14.99 per pound but also more economical machine made matzah. $14.99 is the best price I have seen at any retailer in more than two decades. Moreover, Costco has sardines, gefilte fish, grape juice, macaroons, cheeses, kosher chicken and crumb cake all certified as kosher for Pesach.
While it is ironic that lechem oni costs so much, it is good to know there is at least one way to bring the price down locally.
Better, Costco is prepared to expand its kosher offerings, not only for Pesach but year round. Last week my wife and I visited the store to do some shopping. We were pleased to find a display of kosher food samples at the store’s entrance. The person responsible asked for our feedback and encouraged us to spread word in the Jewish community. He told us that Yale Glinter, the outreach director of the Jewish Community Center is the liaison with Costco. If there are foods that the community would want Costco to sell, it would be best to work through Yale. Yale’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Columbus Jews might not know it, but at outlets in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Costco features a wider range of kosher products including fresh meat and poultry, delicatessen and other products. It it can be done there, Costco with communal support may be prepared to do the same in the Capital City.
Please contact Yale and Costco. Please take advantage of this opportunity to make kashrut more affordable for all.
Chag Kasher V’sameach, a happy and kosher Passover. Please share this column with friends on line and in person.