Finding Community at the Grocery Store: Happy Passover

Sometimes, you find the Jewish community where you least expect it. Today, my 2-year-old in tow, I went to our favorite kid-friendly grocery store, Wilson Farms, where Simon knows he can see Belle the Llama and pens of clucking chickens. On rare occasion, we see people we know.

Today, Wilson Farms was the place to be a Jew. I ran into a congregant from my temple and exchanged Passover greetings with her and her daughter. A while later, I accepted a hug from a friend and a greeting from her husband who leads the Lexington Chabad. They grinned and marveled at how Simon – who was blissfully munching on blackberries – has grown.

There were many others I didn’t know, and yet, I felt a warm sense of community. Many of us asked similar questions of store clerks. Many of us had children along. “Where’s the parsley? Where can we find a shank bone?” Said a clerk, “We give out one free per customer,” and pointed me in the direction of the meat table I had visited earlier.

To many Jews from my Boston suburb of Lexington, my experience would sound mundane and unsurprising. Lexington has a sizable Jewish population, and three Jewish congregations. What, meet Jews in the grocery store on Passover? Of course. But for me, it was a fairly new experience, one I never had as a child. I was a Jew among Jews preparing for Pesach.

From the time I was 9 until high school graduation, I lived in Findlay, Ohio, a town with less than a handful of three Jewish families. In Lexington and nearby Bedford, every grocery store has a section devoted to Passover food. And, each year, the aisles bulge with even more Passover offerings. In Findlay, Ohio, I cannot recall seeing Passover products save a few cake mixes. If my mother wanted choices, she had to travel at least an hour to Lima or Toledo. My family, though, was not passionate about having a fully-equipped Passover Seder. We said the Four Questions, drank some grape juice, and spread sweet haroset on the matzo. Passover came and went with little fanfare.

Living in a town with a Jewish presence as an adult, I can sense the excitement over Passover, which starts at sundown tomorrow. I sense a rush to get ready. I should be chopping carrots right now for the brisket, in fact. But Simon is napping, so I made a choice. Write now, cook later.

I sense some of my fellow Jews’ stress. After grocery shopping, Simon and I made our regular stop at Starbucks so he could drink his Vanilla milk, and I could get my all-too-regular dose of Chai Tea. A more observant acquaintance of mine rushed in. She admitted that she was harried. She was having 10 people over for the first seder and still had to do a full cleaning and exchange of the dishes. And yet, she lingered with us for a bit. She, like I, teaches families and their children music. Simon has taken a class with her. She bent down and sang the Goodbye, Farewell song to Simon, who chimed in at the end. She grinned, and off she went. Another encounter. Another wonderful slice of community.

Last week, I was torn about whether to do anything for first seder. My husband’s free time is packed with studying for his MBA program, and we have an invitation to a second night seder. I decided quickly this weekend that I wanted to experience Passover in our home. It will only be the three of us – my husband, Simon and I – tomorrow at first night seder. It’s unlikely that our seder will last for hours. Simon rarely sits at the table for more than 10 minutes or so. We will do our best to give him a sense of Passover – and celebrate the holiday ourselves as well. For me, though, it is as if the celebration already has begun – in a grocery store’s aisles.

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