As Passover’s midpoint approaches, the holiday’s signature crunchy side, main, and everything-else dish may already be wearing out its welcome at some of our tables. So I invite those of us who might be counting the days until matzah reclaims its place in gastronomic memory to focus on the transformative potential of matzah and other Passover foods. Here at JOI, we use Passover as a time to help Jewish communities throughout North America provide a portal of entry to Jewish life for those who are not connected to their local Jewish community. Specifically, JOI does this through its Passover in the Matzah Aisle program which trains Jewish communal professionals and volunteers to bring a taste of local Jewish life to local grocery stores to meet people where they are. In this setting, a literal taste of traditional Passover foods becomes the first step towards Jewish connection. The following story on the transformative potential of the traditional Passover foods (the macaroon in this case) comes from Isabel Balotin. As the Jewish Federation of Jacksonville’s Shalom Jacksonville Coordinator, Isabel brings JOI’s Public Space Judaism model to her programming throughout the year.
“Ella Nussbaum* never misses an opportunity to help someone. As one of Shalom Jacksonville volunteers for our Passover in the Matzah Aisle SM program at Winn-Dixie, Ella struck up a conversation with a young man as he approached our table to sample a macaroon. In a most friendly way, she asked him if he had a place to go for seder. He responded that he was Jewish but his wife wasn’t Jewish and they would be in Paris during the holiday.
This was not an end to the banter between our worldly-wise gal and the young man. Ella suggested that if he wanted to attend a seder while in Paris that he and his wife could go to a synagogue, show their passports and find out what activities were planned for the holiday. He seemed delighted with the information and was most grateful when I asked him if he would like a copy of the Jewish News. He graciously gave us his contact info, I gave him my business card and told him to call or email me with any questions he might have about the Jewish community.
It is for this young man and others we met that we hold our events in public spaces like Winn-Dixie, Barnes & Noble, Lets’ Nosh, Panera Bread, et al. There we find people who have not yet connected to our community, who are still searching, who are still “outside the tent.” No matter how long one has lived in this area, Shalom Jacksonville is ready to welcome them and guide them to whichever door into the tent interests them.”
Newcomers to Jewish life can experience similar moments each time a Passover in the Matzah Aisle takes place. This year, Passover in the Matzah Aisle provided an initial Jewish connection to folks all over the continent, including Colorado, Massachusetts, Texas, Florida, Connecticut, Manitoba, and Oregon (pictured)!
*Name changed for anonymity
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