Matzo Quest

I live less than a mile from the Boston Marathon finish line, and even if you don't watch the race itself, the exuberance of the event is everywhere.   It’s easy to identify the marathoners.   They are impossibly lean, impossibly fit, not an ounce of fat.  Plus they wear those silly leggings, always, even in the days before and after the marathon itself.   After the race, they occasionally parade around with medals around their necks, or wrapped in the mylar blankets that are handed out at the finish line.

Fashion choices aside, the runners are inspiring.  We can set ambitious goals, and achieve them!   We can wear silly tights in public!   We can take care of our bodies, exercise, eat healthy foods!

With this in mind, on Marathon Monday, I set off to find whole wheat matzo.   Finding whole grain matzo has been a bit of a chase since I moved into Boston.   Our first Passover here was 2020 – the shelves that March and April were denuded of pretty much everything, so the absence of whole wheat matzo was no surprise.  We were happy to find regular matzo, even happier to find toilet paper.   

In the years since, finding whole wheat matzo in Boston has been achievable, but challenging.   Giant, five-box packages of standard (white flour) matzo show up in both Star Market and Whole Foods a month before the holiday, but for the last couple of years, the whole wheat version has hit the shelves only in Whole Foods, and only a week before the first seder.   As it happened, Marathon Monday this year was exactly a week before the first night of Passover, so I figured the timing should be right.    I live walking distance from two branches of Whole Foods.   The smaller one is much closer, and it's the one I usually frequent.  But in my quest for the elusive whole wheat matzo I took the longer walk to the much larger branch of Whole Foods (if those runners can trot for 26.2 miles, I can surely walk a mile for a matzo). This Whole Foods reliably offers 15 varieties of organic kimchi:  surely, a little whole grain matzo would be on hand?  

But no.   This year, the giant Whole Foods had an extraordinarily small Passover display – it took me 15 minutes of wandering around the store to even find it – with just a few boxes of (white flour) matzo, a little matzo meal, a few jars of gefilte fish.   Oh, and fruit slices:

I do not know why any retail establishment would carry these fruit slices; for lo, they are an abomination unto the Lord.

I am quite sure this market had a much bigger supply of Passover options in years past.  What to make of this year’s scarcity?  Three hypotheses come to mind:

  • Easter was early this year; Passover is late.   Usually retailers can order their Peeps and their gefilte fish at the same time.  But with this year’s calendar idiosyncracies, retailers are at a loss to manage the Passover inventory cycle.
  • The Powers That Be have decided that if Jews are really serious about this Bread of Affliction business, we should wholeheartedly embrace the constipation that comes with it.
  • Whole Foods is going with the zeitgeist:  Judaism is not much in fashion this year among the consumers of organic kimchi.

Finding whole grain matzo was not a big reach when I lived in the suburbs, where they were reliably stocked in the robust Passover sections of both Star Market and Whole Foods in Newton.   No surprise:   Newton has a robust Jewish population.   My current neighborhood in Boston has a much lower density of Jews, but a lot more of everyone else.  Whole wheat matzo may be hard to find, but I have no trouble sourcing masa harina, rice paper spring roll wrappers or locally-produced Berber spice mix.   I treasure this diversity, and the richness of human interaction it offers: it is one of the central gifts of my move into the city.   It affirms my faith in our common humanity.

There was a comfort, of course, in living in a community with others from a common cultural background.  I speak the language; I understand the gestures and symbols.   The supermarkets have whole wheat matzo every single spring – and whole spelt matzo, to boot.  I could use a little whole spelt this uneasy year for Jews, rocked as we are by the seemingly endless horrors of events half a world away, and unsettled as we are by unanticipated hostility and shattered alliances here at home.

I did eventually find whole wheat matzos:  this year at the local Star Market (but only within the last few days – I’ve been checking regularly).   

A few days later, I stop by Foodie’s, an independent grocer in our neighborhood.  It is very small, very urban, and very diverse, serving as a pantry for both the public housing across the street and the rathier tonier brownstones a few blocks away. 

I am surprised, and endlessly gratified, to see that they have a Passover section, tucked in between the tortilla chips and the Polar seltzers.

The selection is modest -- just a few boxes of (white flour) matzo, some matzo meal and some gefilte fish – almost exactly what’s in stock at Whole Foods, a store about ten times the size of Foodie’s.   It feels like a hug, seeing these things on these shelves, reassurance that I am not unwelcome here.

I hope that all of us, whether we’re celebrating the holiday or not, can find some way to affirm our faith in our common humanity this Passover.  I hope that all of us, regardless of our political perspective, can share a fervent prayer for peace.   

And I hope that every single one of us can avoid those fruit slices – for lo, they are an abomination unto the Lord.



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