“There is no fear in love,” Jesus said. “Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus said.
Thank you, Jesus, I’ve always understood you to be and respected you as a maverick, a community organizer, a champion of the underappreciated and the oppressed. I wish you could influence exclusion and Anti-Semitism posing as supply chain economics.
I live in a small town in upstate New York. This is a choice I’ve made for nearly 13 years. There are very few Jews in this town, and I have had people tell me—with kind incredulity—that they “had no idea” I am Jewish. (Okay, thanks.)
Tonight, I ventured out to buy matzoh. I knew it was a risky prospect. Still, I went first to one of the two very large local supermarkets to buy matzoh—on the first night of Passover. This first store had matzoh, but none of it was Kosher for Passover matzoh—it was the year-round kind. I got some, anyway, because, well, that’s better than nothing. (Good thing I am no longer as strict with adherences as I was in my younger years.)
Then, I went to Store 2, the other very large local supermarket, the one that just changed from one storefront and ownership to another, and I thought that (maybe) since they used to carry matzoh in their prior incarnation, they would have some tonight—maybe even the Passover designated kind…or even more than one type (fancy that?).
Here is what happened instead…
But first, a sidebar:
Why am I sharing this story publicly? Not because I want anyone to feel bad or tell me how sorry they are. On the contrary, I am aiming for anti-self-righteous education. I had just had a lovely chat with the cashier at Store 1. During this interaction, I helped him learn how to pronounce the Hebrew letter ”chet,” much like a hard-h, as found in “charoset,” “challah,” and, ”Chanukah.” He was lovely. I might be the first Jew he’s met in Owego (possibly ever), and hooray for that (I guess). The person in the bakery section in Store 1 at least knew that there was nothing “certified Kosher,” let alone Kosher for Passover, in the bakery section. They were very nice to me as we examined and discussed the chometzdik macaroons (which I also got, because a not Passover macaroon is still a macaroon, and, again, I am not that strict—on the contrary).
So, there I was, in the second store of the two I visited this evening, on the first night of Passover, seeking ONE BOX of actually Kosher for Passover matzoh, as I am living alone with two cats in the middle of Covid. (No, this is not an earth-shattering dilemma that I’m enduring. Indeed, I am not in the Ukraine, fleeing for my life, but feeling bad that my problems are not at that level of horror [as in: so why should I have the right to complain about anything…?] doesn’t help any Ukrainian refugees, after all, and I am allowed to have my own experience, as I have learned, as I approach my 56th birthday.)
The first employee in Store 2, meaning well, admitted that they had no idea what I was talking about. They had never heard of matzoh, although Passover sort of rang a bell. We talked at the Customer Service counter, with the vibrant, multicolored Easter egg and rainbow cutouts papering the wall behind her, covered with children’s names in scratchy Sharpie print letters. I had just walked past not one but three (possibly four) Easter displays, with gigantic desserts, including cakes and candies, as well as flowers, signs, greetings, and other wonderful, lovely representations of celebration and welcome, each of which filled me simultaneously with happiness for my Easter-observing friends and family, and a feeling of isolation and erasure. Then there’s the big sign on the storefront glass, advising the public of their hours on Easter Sunday.
“It really depends on the time of year when we get that kind of item in the store,” said an employee I shall call B. “Well,” I said politely and patiently, followed by “thank you,” as I continued, “now would be that time, in this case, since tonight is the first night of Passover.”
He accompanied me hurriedly to the “International Aisle,” where I had just been, and showed me the place where “the outside vendor” populates the shelves.
I had just told the employee (I’ll call her A, here) behind the robustly decorated Customer Service area that I was never returning to a store where I had shopped (in its prior incarnation) for 13 years. I found myself surprisingly close to tears, as I tempered my rage so as to be kind to this person who had done nothing wrong and was just the messenger. “That’s fair,” A said, using a now famous and common idiom. “I understand why you would feel that way,” she continued with kindness.
A few minutes later, B arrived with a small box of Kosher flatbread, wondering if this might be what I sought. I thanked B politely and said this was not matzoh, but indicated that I appreciated his efforts. Then, B said, ”During Christmas, they often have specialty items, so maybe then might be when they have what you are looking for.” I took a breath. “Why would a Jewish food item for Passover be available during Christmas?” I found myself asking him, for no reason, since it was clear given what he had just said that my question was already moot. “I don’t know, I‘m just trying to help you,” he said, turning his attention toward his smartphone.
At first, I thought maybe B was looking up something to help me. Then, I realized that B was ignoring me, instead, having had enough of this Jew in Owego who could not be helped. A, behind the Customer Service counter, then indicated that she was going to get me some information. First I thought maybe a manager would be contacted, but, instead, I was given a Customer Service hotline, because I had asked A for the number for their corporate headquarters. (Later, I left a message, and was cut off—twice—during the recording.)
For some reason, I tried again with B. “Why would a Jewish food product be available for Christmas? I am sorry, I do not understand.” B did not look up from his phone.
I was no longer there. There were hundreds of bunnies, and chocolate eggs, and paper of every pastel hue, but there was no Jew in front of him. I was invisible. Sure, I could take the high road, yet again, and give him the benefit of the doubt, I thought to myself. He was unable to help me. He had tried. There was nothing more that he could do. Perhaps he was upset, overwhelmed, or just processing information in a way that is unique to him. But I frankly didn’t think so. I think he was just ignoring me, because he had reached his limit. He was “just trying to help me,” yes. And I was unhelpable.
Before I left Store 2, I reshelved everything I decided not to buy there. I hadn’t picked up much, but that wasn’t the point.
Note to self, and a word to the wise for the future: Don’t try to buy Passover matzoh in Owego.
In between my Store 1 and Store 2 visits, I ate one piece of not-Passover matzoh after a small piece of gefilte fish and a slice of carrot. I said the b’ruchot alone in the kitchen, leaning over the sink, then sat with the cats, having put away the other groceries.